Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

The worst advice you can give to people trying to find themselves is to look within. That presumes a person is like an onion, with layers of social selves to peel off to get closer and closer to the inner core, the true self. The idea is that if you sit in a room with yourself and focus on yourself, you will get in touch with the “real you” or self-actualize the “real you.”

People who try this sometimes find there is no “real you,” or they just make up a bunch of stories and poses about who they think themselves to be.

That’s because a person is not a closed system that can be studied in isolation. A self exists only in relation to something else, while perceiving something and interacting with the world.

It’s more useful to conceive of a person as an artist. On the journey toward becoming themselves, artists often begin by copying some predecessor whose work they admire. Early on, the Beatles copied Buddy Holly and other artists. Countless writers started out by trying to copy George Orwell or Toni Morrison.

We’re mimetic creatures. We learn by imitating what excellent others have done before us…

Everybody is like that in a way. Everybody is grabbing from the world bits and pieces of thought and fashion that they can mishmash into their own personal way of being. The more sources you borrow from, the more interesting your self is likely to be…

“A man with few friends is only half-developed,” Randolph Bourne observed. “There are whole sides of his nature which are locked up and have never been expressed. He cannot unlock them himself, he cannot even discover them; friends alone can stimulate him and open them.”

Gradually, out of these interactions a self emerges. This is the hardest phase. You can pile up myriad influences. You can pile up performances. But eventually it all has to cohere into a distinct way of perceiving the world, a distinct way of expressing yourself in the world.

This simplifying process can make a person’s voice more powerful and focused. Zora Neale Hurston went back to her hometown Eatonville, Fla., as a setting from which she could express what she wanted to say about life. For his second Inaugural Address, Lincoln went back to the Bible to get the cadences and truths he needed to express his point of view.

Everybody who is writing a book or making a presentation or being a person in the world has to eventually wrestle with that cohering question: What’s the core here? Or as Miles Davis put it, “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.”

— David Brooks, from “How to Find Out Who You Are” (NY Times, July 28, 2022)


  • Thank you Laila for inspiring this share.
  • Photo: Mart Production via Pexels



  1. I Love this, we’re a quilt, not and onion.

    Thank you, Laila and David.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is packed with meaning. I love it, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” – miles understood

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We are – hopefully – many and change constantly.
    Great text from Brooks. We love it.
    Wishing you a wonderful week
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I had sent this op ed to my eldest – Brooks was far more eloquent than we were, as we considered the impact of looking within without considering the world and people around us. The irony of being a mimetic species and an egocentric one.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. This piece delights me and brings with it a certain guilty sense of relief…can worry a bit less that I don’t have everything gamed out. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    So very wise!! … ““Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” — David Brooks, from “How to Find Out Who You Are” (NY Times, July 28, 2022).


  8. After years of tuning in to at least Friday night’s opinion segment on PBS (7:30-ish), I think the core of David Brooks is a rational, thinking nice-guy who never gives up on anyone!


  9. Love this. It’s inspiring too to understand the depth of impact we have on one another: we quite literally become parts of each other, and that is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sawsan said it …quilt is such a great way to show that our “us” is a joining of all the pieces we have gathered over time. In my case, more of a crazy quilt rather than a set pattern!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Call me an Onion layers and layers of bs dumped on me and once I got to the center the road opened up and I no longer allow others to hurt me,
    but someone was needed for me to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “On the journey toward becoming themselves” agree…and as I always say we are all – Works In Progress…We all have collective experiences and individual milestones…gifts and opportunities…and so much more…

    Liked by 1 person

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