3 (Not So) Quick Steps to Self-Discovery

Although the bottom line of this post occurs to be that obsolete you-have-to-get-lost-to-find-yourself wisdom, allow me to offer you a step-by-step guide on implementing such claim.


You see—being exchange students in the 2nd term, my friends and I have to struggle with at least four different challenges: 1) everyone has their cliques-from-last-semester already, 2) even when it’s possible, establishing deep connections would only hurt because you know you’re gonna leave them after a couple of months, 3) (mini) cultural shocks every once in a while—including how people here don’t really speak English, and 4) your peers patronize you because you’re just an exchange student. Oh plus, (this one’s exclusive to weird social science students who hang out with folks from engineering): 5) nobody really cares about philosophy and politics—one of them actually said that I ‘wasted’ my time taking them as an academic focus.

That, my friend, was more than enough to strand me in an isolated island, let me double-observe my surroundings, and give me the privilege to greet that old, frightened little girl inside me, with whom I decided the area where I will stay throughout my temporary journey.

Again, these are not guiding points to ‘settle down in a new environment‘, but more like a sneak-peak of what it would be like to discover that usually inaudible genuine voice inside your head. Something today’s sophisticated society calls as ‘self‘ (note that I prefer to deliberately use a singular form of ‘self’, appreciating each’s distinct uniqueness).

1. Give Up Your Identity

One of the reasons why it becomes harder for us to listen and understand our ‘self’ nowadays is because there are so many external noises coming from people’s perceptions and expectations towards our being. These dins are loud—very loud in fact, so loud that you cannot really hear any sound produced beneath them, concealed by layers of social consciousness.

Back when I was ‘Afu’, for example, I wore this heavy rucksack of ‘what people want me to be’ that sometimes I automatically chose an option based on the prejudices I assumed existed and denied option B, C, or D when, come to think of it, they actually made more sense.

The first step to self-discovery is then to enter the room of complete silence. Shut all these rackets off by starting new. Let that ugly rucksack go. Be selfless. Don’t bother getting a new rucksack by bragging to your new friends about what you did, loved, or hated. You used to tell everyone you’re an introverted avid reader? Put down that ideal self-image for a while. Instead, just be present, participate, and give spontaneous responses. It would make you feel alive.

Constructivists always say that we’re a blank slate after all.

2. Experiment with Different Personalities

Now that you’re practically nobody, it wouldn’t hurt to experiment with different personalities and see which one appears more natural to you. Indeed, inventing a completely new persona requires imagination and ability to improvise, but it’s fun especially when you get used to it after a while. Of course: do not fake anything. The point is to experiment, not to play a drama or play a phony role just to pointlessly impress new friends.

Put on some new types of clothes—skirts if you’re too comfortable with pants, and T-shirts to replace your collection of laced tops. Do some sports, take yoga classes, visit a museum—experience. Hang out with the kind of people you wouldn’t have otherwise (in my case: engineers completely unaware of Indonesia’s current political situation). Pretend not, however. If you’re dead sure that you hate partying all night, why waste your time doing it?

What I’m saying is, maybe the person you have been is not the person you’re supposed to be. You might be missing out some great things because you stay in that box of ‘who I am’, defined excessively by your family, or worse, your ego.
So fear not—try things out.

3. Listen to the New Voices

Now that you have the access to a complete database of possible personae on the table, your next mission would be to have an open mind and listen to the new voices that resonate consequently. They might be very subtle, at first—like a muffled whisper; but trust me: as soon as you’re aware of its existence, you become more and more sensitive. In the end of the day, you would be able to listen to even the most quiet sound.

I’m not merely talking about the voices inside our head, by the way. Of course being a stranger in a new place will provide you with this chunk of time to contemplate and listen to the ‘self’ that talks back to us at times (these things aren’t for you—oh wait, look, I knew eating alone was fun), but making new friends also means listening to new, honest opinions (that aren’t ad hominem).

I myself have been spending the week with a bunch of male engineering students (mostly Agi and Iip‘s friends-slash-flatmates), none of which cared about ‘democracy in the third world’ or other immaterial (thus irrelevant) concepts. Although I really enjoyed being around them, most of the time I had to be the clueless-when-it-comes-to-science Penny who, clearly, didn’t understand what the guys were talking about (especially when it comes to computer codes, DotA, or Yu-Gi-Oh cards). To my surprise, these people actually gave me new insights about who I really am and what I really like doing.

(FYI it doesn’t involve engines nor laboratories. Obviously. LOL.)


The first nine days had been new and strange in a good way. I wonder what the city-state (of torture to grammar nazis) would bring me in the next months.

I’m not sure if I really made a point here, but surely anyone who made that ‘get lost to find yourself‘ line—a psychologist, I believe—put it forth better. Cheers.

P.S. Education-wise, Singapore doesn’t seem to favor the Socratic, western way of stimulating insights through questions. Instead, they go with the Confucius, eastern way of internalizing values through repetitions. Which is interesting,


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