It’s difficult not to feel like a fraud when your external and internal self contradict each other. Confused? Valid point, let me explain. My external, or “presentational self" aims to exude an unparalleled picture of success—a success that is built on my uncanny work ethic, popularity, and intellectual curiosity. But despite this facade, I am afraid my internal self disagrees. My internal self feels pressured and doubtful of the rat race that I willingly signed up for.
I am confident that my current contradiction is a not foreign to the rest of society. Because when I stop just long enough to notice how many people are caught up in this never-ending and elusive journey towards success, my heart truly aches.
Let's start with the basics. Where does this fraudulent internal vs. external contradiction stem from? Perhaps it stems from the societally enforced, but internally perpetuated voices that constitute our individualistic 21st-century mentality. The voices that encourage individuals to constantly be and do more. Yet if we step back, it's clear to see that these voices represent the lies—the lies we unknowingly fed ourselves. And ultimately, the falsehoods that construct the contradiction in which I know find myself.
I am better than this, and so are we all. We are better than these self-serving lies because the type of validation our external selves often aspire to attain is bound our culture’s constant obsession with perfection and ultimately fleeting.
So, what now?
There is a common term used in rhetorical criticism: “reading against the grain." This term is used to describe refusing to be a passive audience member who accepts the writer’s dominant perspective.
In many ways, reading against the grain is exactly what I aspire to do when evaluating society’s dominant perspectives on success and self-worth. Arguably one of the first steps to finding a resolve to my unsettling contradiction is to question the ideologies that are embedded within our individualistic society. The ideologies that promise prosperity, yet often result in further emptiness.
Now I'd be lying if I said I don't muse about whether questioning societally embedded ideologies is possible—If I can truly go back to my careless childhood years in which I was largely unbound by harsh cultural expectations? Because of course, one's search for internal and external coherence sounds promising, yet the question remains: is it truly possible to recover a spirit of contentedness that is independent of worldly achievements? Or even more complex, to identify the fine line between being a passionate steward of one’s talents and obsessively relying on society’s stamp of approval?
By oneself? No way. By His grace alone? Yes, way.
My Savior’s grace is ready, and He is able, but my cultural contradiction won't be resolved by another societal quick fix. Why? Because it is not enough to acknowledge the ability of this undeserved grace. No instead, the fix I aspire towards will require patience, perseverance, and practice.
Habits are strong, and societal expectations are even stronger. So without a game plan to lean back on when the voices of doubt ring louder, failure is looming. Yet, as equally doomed as we are to fail, we are capable of succeeding with a proper game.
A game plan built on a strong foundation of grace, proper priorities and a worth unhinged by my accomplishments or rank in a competition amongst my peers.
A worth that is undoubtedly the product of a radiant grace far beyond anything that society could have constructed.
Every person's journey to find internal/external coherence will be different, but if you feel so compelled, feel free to join me on a quest towards unwavering worth.