Why Finding Your “True Self” and Being Authentic Is Truly Terrible Advice

Why Finding Your “True Self” and Being Authentic Is Truly Terrible Advice


Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” He is, of course, not the only thinker in history with this opinion. Socrates’s famous dictum to “know yourself” speaks to a deep cultural trend in which self-examination, and perhaps fidelity to what one finds, is paramount. The aphorism “Unto thyself be true,” is frequently attributed to Shakespeare, rather than the pompous, pontifical character of Polonius who speaks the words.

Today, happiness has entered into the realm traditionally kept by philosophy. The idea that knowing who you are can make you happy is almost taken for granted. As long as one is being true to oneself, and one’s goals, things can only be better and happier, or so the conventional wisdom goes.

Michael Puett, however, who is Professor of Chinese History at Harvard, has different ideas about the self, philosophy, happiness, and what all that has to do with something called trained spontaneity.

Though it seems oxymoronic, trained spontaneity has more to do with finding the right time to do what makes you happy. Perhaps having a quiet workplace is ideal, meaning once in a while speaking up to the noisy neighboring cubicle. Nothing too wild and crazy, as the film Office Space taught us — no one needs to go knocking down the walls of their cubicles. Instead, knocking down a pattern or routine every once in a while, as Puett suggests, can lead to a happier work place.

Puett is author of The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates Concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China.



Michael Puett

Michael Puett is the Walter C. Klein Professor of Chinese History in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and Chair of the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. He is the author of The Ambivalence of Creation: Debates Concerning Innovation and Artifice in Early China and To Become a God: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Self-Divinization in Early China, as well as the coauthor of Ritual and its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity. In 2013, he was awarded a Harvard College Professorship for excellence in undergraduate teaching.


August 3, 2016 / by / in , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons

IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Scooblrinc.com is a website owned and operated by Scooblr, Inc. By accessing this website and any pages thereof, you agree to be bound by the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, as amended from time to time. Scooblr, Inc. does not verify or assure that information provided by any company offering services is accurate or complete or that the valuation is appropriate. Neither Scooblr nor any of its directors, officers, employees, representatives, affiliates or agents shall have any liability whatsoever arising, for any error or incompleteness of fact or opinion in, or lack of care in the preparation or publication, of the materials posted on this website. Scooblr does not give advice, provide analysis or recommendations regarding any offering, service posted on the website. The information on this website does not constitute an offer of, or the solicitation of an offer to buy or subscribe for, any services to any person in any jurisdiction to whom or in which such offer or solicitation is unlawful.