Self-invention vs Self-discovery

The way I see it we’re all moving through life trying to figure out what the hell this life thing is any way. Some people choose a path of discovery, learning about who they are. While some choose to invent themselves, from scratch even, if they don’t like what they’ve discovered.

Self-invention has only recently become part of my vocabulary, inasmuch as it relates to the process of choosing one’s identity, perceptions and actions. Merriam-Webster isn’t much help with a definition

the act or an instance of inventing or creating one’s identity or conception of oneself


Everyone knows you can’t use a word to define itself, Merriam-Webster

When I reflect on the differences between discovery and invention I think about the various aspects of my life right now. For example, I discovered that at the ripe old age of 27 I have inherited my grandmother’s arthritic knees. My old self would gripe and moan and generally wallow in self-pity, but the new self-invented Robyn chooses to exercise*, take an Advil and get on with life. 

*think about exercising, often.

Or I’ve discovered that I am generally not a clean person, as evidenced by the armies of dust bunnies that have invaded my apartment. But I can choose to be a person who cleans more often. Or, more likely, choose to be a person who has higher priorities than dust bunnies. Like making sure the cats are fed. Which I do. I feed my cats. Regularly. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

I like the idea of self-invention more than self-discovery because it gives us this idea of agency. As if we have some modicum of control in a universe that often tends to spiral in the opposite direction. Victor Frankl spent the entirety of his career preaching the idea that man can rise above or sink beneath whatever circumstance he is presented with. (And if you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning, I highly recommend it as a textbook for life). As delightful as it is to figure ourselves out, it’s equally wonderful to realize we can change the things we don’t like. Most of them, at least.

Self-invention isn’t easy by a long shot. Personal development is hard and painful and frankly more than a little repetitive. Like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up that hill, over and over again. But it’s a worthy mark to aim for, the invention of a self you can be proud of. Your best self. Like Michelangelo with a block of marble, you get to chip away at the excess and discover/invent the masterpiece that was in there this whole time. 

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