Matt Perryman

“Finding out who I am” is not an identity

By Matt Perryman

In the 16th century, the French aristocrat and writer Michel Montaigne turned on Monk Mode in his chateau and began writing a large collection of essays.

Montaigne’s known today for creating the genre of the personal essay.

What isn’t as well known is how Montaigne’s ideas challenge his countryman, the philosopher Rene Descartes.

Descartes may be best known for the remark “I think, therefore I am”. Who you are is based in ideas and thought processes going on inside your mind.

Montaigne’s slogan would be, “I write, and that’s who I am”.

When Montaigne explored his thoughts and experiences on the page, he found that he was exploring new parts of himself that he created while writing them.

Things have changed a lil bit since 16th century France, but you might recognize the theme of “finding yourself”. It’s all over the Insta-gram and Tick-Tock, baked into all parts of pop culture.

Pop culture authenticity says “follow your passions”, “pursue your dreams”, or the ever-charming “you can’t judge me”.

Authenticity is about doing whatever you feel like. It’s brute emotion and greedy desire. You aren’t meant to ask where your desires came from, how those emotions got into your head.

Just shut up and like, be cool, bro. The only good thing is never judging anyone ever. (Unless they judge someone, in which case judge them into the dirt.)

The authenticity lie tell us that everything goes… until it doesn’t. It’s not a stable place to build a life around.

The net effect is that ho’ bunch of folks out there now are using self-discovery as their identity.

As in, they have no passion to find. “Finding my passion” is who they are.

If they found that true self, they wouldn’t want it.

Identity requires commitment. It means taking a stand for something that matters to you.

You can’t commit to short-term wishes and appetites. (Which are put in your mind by fashion trends and advertising anyway.)

What was Montaigne doing? Writing essays wasn’t about following his passion. He was diving deep into his own experiences — experiences like friendship and virtue — reflecting on what they meant for him, and searching for clarity.

The process of self-discovery was not about following empty feelings. Montaigne wrote to reach a deeper, clearer articulation of where he stood and what mattered to him.

That’s how you find out who you are, not chasing fads on social media.

Matt Perryman 

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