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The Essential Self: Fact or Fiction?

After much back and forth, I have finally decided to go ahead and share a talk that I was initially afraid to give. In this talk I share my personal journey with the idea that we—as human beings—are all endowed with a true, authentic, core, and essential self. It’s the idea that as humans we are individuals, and as individuals there is an underlying reality, a true authentic nature that makes us who we are. That at the center of who we are, is a core self that is comprised of drives, instincts, inner strengths, resources, or inherent qualities such as goodness, intelligence, sexuality, or creativity.

This idea has become so prevalent in our culture that it has achieved a taken for granted status, particularly in the realms of popular psychology, spirituality, self-help and coaching. In my talk, I explore the ways in which this idea can at times be extremely helpful in certain contexts, but how it can also become a harmful double-edged sword. As you listen to my talk, you will get to hear all about a few of my first-hand experiences with this dark side of the ‘essential self’ narrative.

The genesis of this talk took place this past spring, when I signed up for Johanna Walker’s ‘Magnify Your Message’ class. It was an 8 week, public speaking course in which we picked a topic to give a talk on, brainstormed ideas, got messy with post-it notes, refined, edited, rehearsed, confronted our fears, and of course did classic tongue twisters and deep-belly breathing exercises in order to prepare us for the inevitable big moment, when each of us would deliver a public talk on the topic of our choice. Initially, I chose a topic that I thought was valuable and reflected the kind of talk that I probably should give based on the specific work that I do. And yet, I kept getting stuck with how to move forward with it in a way that fired me up. Finally, Johanna asked me point blank, “What is the talk you really want to give; even if it scares you to give it?

My honest answer was immediately there. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t the talk that I had been crafting all along, but instead a completely different talk based on my struggles and challenges with this widespread idea of an essential self. I was afraid that my honesty would be off putting and that giving a talk challenging the cherished idea of an essential self would not be well received by others. Simply put, I was afraid to rock the boat.

And yet, both my work and my personal life have always been about challenging the status quo, pulling the rug out from underneath complacent relationship dynamics, and questioning mainstream ideas and values that limit personal freedom and expression.

So here it is! My very personal journey through the pitfalls of believing in an essential self and my discovery of an alternative that will hopefully support you in new ways to initiate positive change in your life.

If you relate or resonate, please share your thoughts and please share my talk!

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