One of my favorite books as a young man was Dibs In Search of Self. Even back then, I was constantly looking for answers, to the extent that I frustrated many of the adults in my world with incessant questions or quiet observation, which they often commented made them feel creepy.
On one level, the book was a true story by psychologist and author Virginia Axline. It chronicled a series of play therapy sessions over a period of one year with an emotionally crippled boy who comes from wealthy and highly educated family who, in spite of obvious signs that he is gifted, his mother and father perceive him as a “mental defective”, because he presents abnormal social behavior: “Dibs” continuously isolates himself (shuns social contact), rarely speaks, physically lashes out at his sister and classmates at school (hitting, kicking etc), has homicidal ideation, displays severe anti-social behavior; he is misdiagnosed as an autistic.
On another, deeper level, the story represents the eternal search that all humans are engaged in: the search for our core identity.
Who are we as individuals? What is our purpose in this lifetime? Can we truly know happiness if we do not know ourselves?
We’re encouraged to start thinking in such directions the moment some well-meaning adult leans over and asks, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
As a child, I never had an answer. I knew what others said – cowboy, astronaut, policeman, fireman, Batman – but I had always thought those answers to be too limiting. Though I didn’t have the words to say this, what I thought when asked was, How the hell should I know? I’m six, for pete’s sake!
Or, as children, we suffered through our relatives’ speculation as to what wemight become when we grew older. Unfortunately, all of their input was quite insipid. If it was up to my family, I’d be a bar owner and most likely an alcoholic like so many of them had become.
Thankfully, I escaped that fate, but only after working for 22 years in the industry. It pretty much chewed me up and spit me out…but that’s a post for another day. Or a year’s worth of therapy.
So the other day, while meeting with my writing coach – he’s in his early 30s, I turned 50 this year (and yes, this is relevant information) – I happened to mention that in working on my current novel project, I had really begun to “find” myself as a writer, as a person, and as a man. I don’t believe that it’s just the novel project that’s guiding me in my discovery, but a culmination of many elements, only one of which is my writing.
The statement, made offhand, seemed to really startle him, or maybe caught off guard would be more appropriate. When he spoke, he said, “I’m really happy to hear you say that about finding yourself.”
And though we skipped merrily onward in our discussion, his reaction stuck with me for several weeks.
Having come from such an unorthodox background – I had always been the quietly defiant one, the silent observer of others’ actions – I often forget that not everyone believes, like I do, that “finding” oneself is a lifetime endeavor. It doesn’t end when you embark on a career, or get married, or have children.
As humans with the capability to reason, seek logic, see patterns, and find answers, we are continually searching. We are naturally curious beings who also want to find meaning in our lives, as well as fulfillment.
So, like Dibs in our opening paragraph, we are constantly in search of self, however we define it. And as I like to say to those who ask, it’s when westop seeking meaning and fulfillment in our lives that we should just lie down and call ourselves dead.