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. 

2019 is gonna be MY year

How many of us have said that to ourselves?

“This is the year I get that degree/that promotion/that baby. This is the year I get my shit together.”

Well, guess what. They’re all your years. 2018 was your year, and so was 2017. And 2020 is going to be your year too. Because the years are your life, and getting that degree/promotion/baby isn’t the full stop at the end of the novel. It’s barely even a chapter break. 

This is a good thing.

This frees us from the limiting idea that we only get one year to do The Thing. It frees us up to realize that all those years that came before 2019 were necessary building blocks to get to whatever achievement you’ve set your eyes on. And all those years beyond 2019 are even more groundwork that you climb on to get to even more achievements.

Because the world doesn’t stop in 2019. The story of your life doesn’t end like a novel, with success, or a sunset horseback ride or a wedding. The story of your life keeps going, and isn’t that the exciting part? Turning the page after triumph or disaster and finding that the story hasn’t ended just yet. That you get to write more story, better story, sadder story, more brilliant and blinding story. That you get to continue learning and self-choosing, that one year does not cannot make or break you. 

I used to think time was against me. It just keeps going, keeps making me older (ugh), keeps dragging me through milestones that in hindsight are pretty silly (I should have been married/promoted/postgrad by now!). But the endless march of time is a gift. It drags us forward, through mistakes, through heartbreak, through painful immaturity. Time drags us (kicking and screaming usually) into knowledge and healing and wisdom.

It takes more than a year to build a life. And trying to cram success (whatever it looks like to you) into one calendar is about as useful as cramming the night before an exam. But we can choose not to do that. We can choose to look at life as a marathon, not a series of sprints. In this world of filters and customization and targeted ads we can choose the perspective that the journey, however long it takes, is just as important the destination. 

If 2019 is gonna be your year, let it be your year to hop off those crazy societal bandwagons and start walking your own beautiful, winding path.