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Inventing Yourself - Nightingale

Another essay by Earl Nightingale from the How to Completely Change Your Life Series

Inventing Yourself

Have you given much thought to the fact that you create yourself? You do, to an altogether unsuspected extent, simply by the choices you make; by the things you decide to do... or decide not to do.

As Kierkegaard said, “The self is only that which it is in the process of becoming.” So it is that an adult can stand in front of a full-length mirror and take a good long look at what he’s created.

We leave home and we form ourselves into new people and we learn, as Thomas Wolfe learned, that we can’t go home again; that we don’t fit as well as we used to. We wonder, after a visit... as we leave to regain our own lives, what happened, if something is wrong, what the strangeness was. It is simply that we are different now, and going back home again is like trying to get a two-year-old shoe on a teenager. It’s not going to fit anymore.

We have shaped ourselves into new people. And we have done so by our own decisions. There’s no going back, of course, and I guess most of us wouldn’t want to if we could, even though we’re acutely conscious of mistakes we’ve made. We have to remember that each of us is new at this business of living and content ourselves with the fact that most of us have plenty of time to make good decisions in the future.

If there’s a rule in making decisions, I suppose it would be to listen to that inner voice and try to make decisions that tend to be growth-oriented.

There’s really no standing still, even if we’d like to.

I wonder how many mothers in poor families have said to their children, “I want you to get an education and make something of yourselves.” The old term, “Make something of yourself” carries with it the clear message that we invent... that we make ourselves.

I do think, however, that most try to play it safe. That is, select those decisions which seem to carry the least risk of failure and by so doing live out their lives well below their real potential as persons. Sayings such as “I’m not going to stick my neck out” and “Don’t rock the boat”—to say nothing of the popular “Take it easy” and “Never volunteer” all indicate a reluctance to live fully extended, or at the leading edge of life. In business every time a suggestion is made that involves any sort of innovation, some old-timer will ask, “Who else is doing it?” He needs reassurance that the idea is not completely new, that it’s been tested by someone else before he’ll venture a “yes” vote.

Professor Sidney Hood writes,

“ observations lead me to the conclusion that human beings have suffered greater deprivations from their fear of life than from its abundance."

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