Why Finding Yourself Is A Myth

Finding yourself isn’t real, it’s a myth. There, I said it. For almost all of my 20s I heard so many women talking about going on journey’s to find themselves that I just believed it was this real thing.

It made sense. You go find lost things so if you feel lost as a person you too could go find yourself. Eat, Pray, Love is one woman’s very public journey to finding herself. Even the saying “finding yourself after college” normalizes finding yourself as a natural event that people go through— a right of passage.

Finding yourself is a myth.

Why “Finding Yourself” is a Myth

The possibility of finding a singular authentic self is an illusion. Society’s romanticization of “the journey” can distract you from this truth.

The myth also implies that the way you become happy, content, and fulfilled is by finding your true self. You can only be those things after you find yourself.

This is a trap that can lead to profound disappointment and a sense of inadequacy when the journey doesn’t meet your expectations.

The concept of finding yourself positions who you are as a single entity, and a destination—something you arrive at.

You can’t reduce your identity to a single unchanging concept. Your sense of self is dynamic and fluid. It’s constantly evolving in response to new experiences and relationships in your life.

Change is Constant

You change throughout your life too. Even on a surface level. The music you listen to, the shows you watch, the books you read, and the media you consume are probably different today than they were a decade ago.

But more than anything life changes you. Have you ever been cheated on, or had someone breakup with you unexpectedly? These events can forever change how you trust and who you trust. How much love you’re willing to give and when.

Even though your identity feels stable and permanent, who you are now is likely not who you’ll be at 30, 40, or even 50. You’re not supposed to stay the same because life continually happens. You change through experiences, choices, and forces beyond our control.

I know this to be true, because the past tells me so— because I change, and you change, as a result of life.

Parenthood, death, loss, success, failure should change you.


I’ve had two moments in particular that changed me and shifted my idea of humanity, kindness, family, and friendships (and so much more).

These events shifted my identity, my concepts of self, of beauty, of family, of friendship of my core values and beliefs. That’s not to say that there is no thread of similarity running through me over the past 15 years. But, I’ve changed. I’m not who I was at 23 or 15 and that’s a wonderful thing.

Furthermore, the idea that there is a fixed, singular self that you can uncover suggests that there is a universal way of living or being that is “right.” In reality human experiences are diverse and vibrant. Approaching life with the belief that there is one authentic way to live or be misses out on the richness of life and constricts our potential.

How you lived in your 20s, perhaps staying up late or grinding at work, felt right in your 20s, but doesn’t feel right anymore in your 40s.

The myth of finding yourself also suggests that there is a singular, perfect version of you that you can’t reach until you uncover it. Your identity isn’t hidden behind some mysterious door that you don’t yet have the key too.

Even then, your identity can’t be unmasked or “liberated” simply by turning a key.

You don’t just arrive at yourself like a train in a station and that’s just who you are for the rest of your life.

This misleading belief can lead you to feel inadequate and unfulfilled. You can feel like you’re not good enough and like you don’t measure up.

If your goal is to “find yourself” what does that even mean? Because you are constantly changing, arriving at “there” or “yourself” becomes a continuously vanishing horizon.

In part, because you could always be more or different— more organized, more talented, earn more money, or be happier.

The reality

In reality, finding yourself (if you want to even call it that) involves an ongoing exploration and discovery process that takes place throughout your life, rather than a fixed destination that you reach.

So, what even comprises who we are? Sure, it’s our tastes and preferences in movies, music, and food. But, it’s also your core beliefs and values. It’s your purpose, it’s your passion, it’s your narratives— the stuff you tell yourself about who you are (and the stuff others have told you that you believe). It’s what you believe to be true about yourself and the world. It’s your mindset. It’s your outlook on life.

If you believe in the concept of finding yourself you will continuously have to “find yourself” throughout your life. If you found yourself after college, you’ll probably have to do it again later in life. Maybe even multiple times.

Being a real living person, existing— it means you’re not lost. You may be confused. You may feel directionless. You may feel like your life is out of alignment, off-course, or off-track. You may feel unsure or uncertain of something, or a lot of things. It’s ok to feel that way. But that doesn’t mean you’re lost.

You are not a lost button that’s accidentally slid under a couch waiting to be found.

Taking Action

Because the concept of finding yourself is so popular when people feel uncertain or unsure about life they often feel like they need to take action now.

Going through an identity shift or a life change that shifts your worldview or priorities can be disorienting. This may especially be the case if the shift is something negative like a death or a loss of some kind. It can feel so disorienting that you feel compelled to take action.

Feeling lost is a feeling, and how you feel is valid.  But, feelings aren’t objective facts or truths, and it’s a feeling that creates the discomfort and the urgency to take action.

Taking action feels good because you’re doing something. Sometimes, just knowing you have a plan is enough to feel a sense of ease even if you haven’t completed any part of the plan yet.

But, action can distract you from listening. From hearing, seeing, or observing what’s going on and how you’re feeling. You may need to take action eventually, but are you taking action out of panic or discomfort? Even more, are you taking action in order to avoid the discomfort and feeling your feelings?

A personal example

Near the end of 2020 something started to feel “off.” I first chalked it up to the pandemic because everyone was feeling off but the feeling persisted into 2021. I thought I was burnt out on work because I had spent the last month studying for a 9-day exam. Even after I had time to recuperate I still had this feeling.

After some time and reflection I realized that the career path I was on wasn’t for me anymore. This led to an identity tailspin prompting me to question every facet of my life.

I had been working towards my PhD for more than a decade. My identity was wrapped up in my career and my academics and now those things didn’t feel right anymore.

It did take me two years to officially leave my program, but the identity tailspin happened in 2021. It went a little something like this:

What am I going to do with my life? I thought that I liked history? who spends 10 years in a field they don’t like? Does that mean I actually know what I want in life? If this isn’t true what else isn’t true? What do I even like anymore?

This realization wasn’t negative per se, but it affected key concepts of my identity. I felt lost and that if I could be so wrong about my career that meant that I didn’t actually know myself. There’s a forthcoming blog on what I learned by leaving my PhD, so there will be more on this later.

In early 2021 I experienced a lot of grief and I sat in it. My life was a facade. My relationship with my partner was great but everything else wasn’t. I was in a career that I didn’t want, my relationships with family weren’t what I thought they were, and most facets of my life were very much out of alignment.

All of this led me to the conclusion that I didn’t know who I was. So, I went on a journey to find myself, which I spent the better part of a year doing. At first there was a panic to figure things out as quickly as possible and all at once. I thought I needed to read books and watch videos to learn what I was supposed to do.

I learned four major things:

the answers to my questions weren’t out there in the universe somewhere but within myself.

No one knows me, or you, better than ourselves. No one can tell you what you’re passionate about better than you. Friends and family can help, but you know yourself best.

*Professional help can also be excellent at helping with identity tailspins.

I had a fundamental mistrust of myself because some major things changed.

Realizing that a part of my life is off or is out of alignment (ex. your career isn’t fulfilling) is not a personal failure. It doesn’t mean I’m untrustworthy or that I don’t know myself. Realizing, that something is off or not serving you anymore is actually the opposite. You know yourself well enough to know that something isn’t right. It doesn’t matter HOW long it takes for you to realize your relationship or career isn’t fulfilling. You realized. That is knowing yourself. 

I was changed by life.

The pandemic and my life experiences shifted my priorities. Without YouTube I probably wouldn’t have started talking about habits, shopping, or contentment. There’s a good chance that without it I would have been on the same career path and happy about it.  Once I realized that my career wasn’t right it gave me confidence to question other facets of my life too. It created a domino effect.

I learned the most when I was calm (and not panicking).

I figured out the career I wanted by taking a systematic approach. I experimented, learned, and iterated. In my free time I took internships in careers I thought I wanted and spoke with people in the field. I took courses. All of my early panicking led to impulsive decision making. I made decisions for the sake of making decisions and moving the needle— to say I was doing something. This resulted in floundering before the real action happened.

My takeaway

I understand why I felt lost, but I let changes in some areas of my life affect my self-concept. It led me to believe that I had changed as a whole or that I truly didn’t know who I was anymore. I allowed it to lead me to mistrust myself.

Because I believed in “finding myself” this felt like my finding myself after college moment. It wasn’t a waste of time per se because I now know that this was a changing or an evolution that will likely happen again at some point. But, believing in the myth took me on a journey I didn’t actually need to take.

I want to scream this from the rooftops: changing in big or small ways does not mean I was, or you are, lost. It means you don’t know yet.

You do not need to go on a journey every time you change. Not knowing what the next step is or what you should do doesn’t mean you can’t know or figure it out. It’s ok to change your mind, pivot, or learn. It’s more than ok because that’s what’s supposed to happen. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *