“Know thyself”, Socrates says, but we fail to fulfill the admonition. We think we already have, we think we already do.

We were there for all the check boxes of our development, and marked them off ourselves. We learned to walk. To tie our shoes laces. To color in the lines. We practiced spelling chrysanthemum. Took the quiz. Maybe we passed it. Maybe we didn’t. Who can remember? In either case, afterwards we never spelled it again. We tried to clear our blemishes. Tried to coverup our foibles. Tried to hide our weird. We looked for cleansers and forgiveness. Rinse, lather, and repeat. We searched for redemption and acceptance. Found it in the wrong places, but still managed to a few thigs that were true. We tried to fit in. Tried to make friends. We got into trouble. Got out of it. Got into it again. We graduated and grew up, at least to varying degrees.

Matt Haig's book "the Dead Father's Club" sitting on top of a composition notebook

We waited for a metamorphosis. A transformation that never came. “Children don’t change into different animals when they grow up”, Matt Haig says, we “just get taller and wider and less funny and do jobs and tell more lies”. Mostly to ourselves. Mostly about ourselves, about who and what we are. Concrete mixed,  poured, and left to set. We turn ourselves into something hardened. Something strong, perhaps. Something that can bear the weight of it all. But, also something that doesn’t move. Something rigid and unalterable. Something stiff and fused.

“[Y]ears later,” Ryan Holiday explains, “we wake up…and realize how rarely we have asked ourselves questions like: Who am I? What’s important to me? What do I like? What do I need?” We cling to the image that we recognize, and yet glance at ourselves only peripherally. A veneer made of our own history. We ignore anything discontinuous. Anything discordant. Anything that disrupts our static lines.

We forget how malleable we are. We negate our own plasticity.

close up of human cells

A third of what we’re made of is fluid. The other two thirds are cells. 330 billion cells replaced every day. A percentage of you continually replenished. A fraction renovated and restored. 30 trillion by the end of every 100 days. An amount that amasses to an entirely reconstructed you. We start the work of learning ourselves. A discovery piece by piece. Learning and relearning and rediscovering, and then we start again.

We are endlessly adaptable. “We exceed our own boundaries”, says Kathryn Schulz, “we are more and other than we know ourselves to be.” Spilling out and over. Only ever partially contained. “This abundance and mysteriousness, this overflowing potential”, Schulz says, are the most “necessary qualities” of who we are.

We shift in arcs and bends. We curve and crook and weave. Our resilience is unparalleled. “A tree that is unbending is easily broken”, Lao Tzu says.  Our pliability is our greatest strength.

Back to Top