Our generation appears to be obsessed with ‘finding’ ourselves. Whilst the premise of this notion is noble, it has perhaps lost its meaning as its use has widened. Finding yourself implies that you are currently lost and clueless about who you are. Yet for most of us this is not the case. We tend to know ourselves better than we think and even if we are yet to discover the deeper aspects of ourselves, it would be incorrect to state that we are lost. Perhaps a better term for this process is self-discovery.
Self-discovery takes on several forms; some more authentic than others. Perhaps one of the most inauthentic versions is taking a trip to an African country or just travelling in general. The language of ‘finding yourself’ in relation to travelling to a foreign country does not make sense as you are partly defined by your surroundings. The place you grew up and the areas you regularly visit contribute to who you are and how you relate to the world, so why do you think you’ll find yourself in Zambia when you grew up in Yorkshire? Indeed, the new experiences you face, and the new environment will force you to adapt and this may give you some insight into some of your characteristics you didn’t know you possessed. But to think travelling to a remote country will revolutionise your perspective on yourself is unrealistic.
Another arguably unnecessary act is a DNA test. Sending off a DNA sample to discover that you’re 1/8 Italian or 1/16 Senegalese has made some feel connected to their roots. When thinking about DNA tests I was always confused about their purpose. Whilst I understand that no one is 100% from one nation, even a verified DNA test would not stop me from feeling 100% Nigerian. Thinking about this deeper made me realise that I feel this way because I deeply identify with my culture and it has become ingrained into how I define myself. But for someone who does not identify with a particular culture or know their origin, it may be helpful for them to discover where they are from so as to engage with a group of people. The results can help people connect with family members and discover an aspect of themselves they did not know existed.
Nevertheless, this is unrealistic. As previously stated, who you are is partly determined by your environment. In addition, your ethnicity contributes as much as you allow it. This means that, even if you are Senegalese and whether or not you grew up in Senegal, this will not affect your character if you do not feel connected to Senegal. We all know people who are of African descent but claim to be British. This is partly because they do not identify with the culture and thus it does not become a part of them. This all goes to show that DNA tests in themselves do not aid self-discovery unless the information will change your perspective.
Overall, the notion of self-discovery has lost its meaning in today’s society. Rather than encouraging people to merely reflect on themselves, we romanticise trivial acts and one-time events. This presents the false idea that ‘finding yourself’ requires one big commitment and then we’re done. In reality, self-discovery is an ongoing process which is achieved through constantly putting ourselves in new situations and reflecting on how we react. It is more than just a deep tweet or a long Instagram caption, and it changes our perspective on both ourselves and the world around us.