The Amorphousness of Ourselves and the Clarity Age Brings

My partner and I attended the Big Bang After Dark party at the California Academy of Sciences a little while ago, a fascinating experience that has left me in a contemplative mood, pondering how our knowledge of ourselves is reflected in the type of person we are.

The Big Bang party is held once a year as a fundraiser for the Cal Academy where there is food, drinks, dancing, and science. It’s amazing. For a while, Mel and I sat and people watched, observing trends in the crowds, and those that bucked them. Although far from a new idea, it was blatantly obvious how much confidence correlates with age.

The general trend was that people in their 20s looked painfully uncomfortable in their own skin, all the way up to people in their 50s and 60s who flat out owned every single aspect of themselves and loved every minute of it.

I’m not talking about the kind of blustering confidence that people put on as if it were a mask to impress others. No, this is a different kind of confidence all together. It’s a subtle, nuanced, yet pervasive kind of confidence that you can’t fake. It’s a confidence that stems from understanding and comfortableness with ones own self, not a lack of shyness or fear when engaging others. This sort of confidence shows when you’re standing there by yourself in a crowded room without talking to anyone.

I think that this type of confidence comes from truly knowing yourself. And this is something that can only come with both age and experience.

We live in an world of instant gratification, which I realize is cliched to say, but it’s nonetheless true. Too often, we think that if there’s something we don’t know, we can just focus hard and learn it in a few weeks or months. This is true of some things, but it’s far from true when it comes to learning about ourselves.

I am beginning to realize that, of all the things we know, one of the things we know the least about is ourselves. We tend to either think we’re awesome, or terrible. Who we think we are rarely coincides with who we actually are, which is also different from who we want to be. Complicating things further is that we often don’t _actually know_ who we even want to be.

There is often a lot of talk about “finding oneself.” There is value in this, of course, but I feel that the basic concept has been so diluted and Hallmark-ified to have lost almost all meaning. So what do I mean when I say “finding ourselves?”

I think that finding oneself is a dance, an attempt at understanding the tensions between who we actually are and who we want to be. Complicating this is that we often don’t consciously understand what either of these are. Our lives end up being this progression towards simultaneously understanding who we actually are, and who we actually want to be, while also realizing that our current understanding of these isn’t actually accurate. It’s a slow solidification of amorphous shapes and ideas.

It’s one big complicated mess, but as we go through our lives though, our understanding of these begins to closer approach reality. The cognitive dissonance lessens.

And it shows.

The less cognitive dissonance in our lives, the more confident we appear. It’s unfortunate that we so often tend to conflate confidence with extroversion because it tends to obscure how we are actually feeling and thinking, how much this cognitive dissonance is making us uncomfortable about ourselves.

I feel like I have started to figure out who I actually am and who I actually want to be over the last few years. Yet, it’s an ongoing process, and I still have much learning to do. This is to say nothing of actually becoming this better self, which will take even more time. That’s OK.

I’m in my 30's now, and I feel like it. I have accepted that it will take decades to become this sort of “penultimate” me I envision, and I have learned to be patient. I have also accepted that what I think is my vision now is most likely going to change, both as part of me figuring out what I truly want, and as part of how I am going to change in the future.

Looking back on early 20's me, I realize just how much I have changed. I barely recognize that person, and I’m not even sure if I like them. It boggles the mind to think if I am going to change that much again between now and my early 40s’s, or again by my early 50's.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that our lives are a journey, and for those of us still early in that journey, we need to recognize and admit that we don’t know much. We don’t know who we are, who we want to be, what confidence even is or what it means to be confident in ourselves. We’ll get there eventually, but until then it behooves us to recognize our limitations, and to be patient.