Many years ago my friends and I talked endlessly about finding ourselves, about figuring out who we were. Some pursued their Ph.D.s. Some harvested sugar cane in Cuba. Some explored life on a commune. Some found partners who could reflect a self back to us. Later, some of our spouses left in midlife to find theselves, which usually amounted to finding someone new.
In our sixties we may agree with novelist Mary McCarthy who wrote: “I’m really not interested in the quest for the self any more…What you feel when you’re older…is that…you really must make the self. It’s absolutely useless to look for it, you won’t find it…But you finally begin in some sense to make and to choose the self you want.”
Choosing the self you want may involve ignoring or re-writing your history. Mary McCarthy was accused of fabricating some of her autobiography. I guess she found that the raw facts weren’t complementary to the self she wanted to be.
How do you go about choosing a new self? How do you strip away the accumulated layers of the past? How do you step away from the self that has accreted in your body? It’s way harder than McCarthy’s brave words would suggest.
Maybe the self is like happiness, a bi-product of what you actually do. If you act braver, pretend you like to fly, speak to all the strangers in a room, go to your class reunion, play knock over the block tower for 20 minutes with your grandchildren, you’ll fake your way to being the person you choose to be.