When you grow up, you go through some form of an identity crisis. You start to wonder what the purpose of your existence is and how you can contribute to the world in which you live.
First, you will discover your hobbies and build on them. If there is real passion and hard work involved, those hobbies will eventually define you. And as you go, you will always come across something new that will help you grow.
I was a naïve child with aspirations like any other child because it was easy to dream and be who you want to be. You’re eager to learn through reading, exploring and interacting with people. All those experiences become a part of your personal development. Foucault is telling us to embrace growth and change, as this is how you learn to be strong and independent.
It’s also Camus’ philosophy that you create meaning and set goals in life. French philosophy saved me on many levels. I had all those existential adult questions at a very young age. How can you not have those questions in your head if you are the only Asian kid growing up in a white German neighbourhood?
I was also the only Asian kid at my elementary school, among many other foreign ones, but they were from Russia, Poland, Yugoslavia, etc. and therefore, white-skinned. Their German was terrible, whereas mine was fine as a native German speaker, except that I didn’t speak a word at school.
Foucault analyzed power from a societal point of view. And kids are smart; they know what power is. So, of course, the German kids were staring and pointing at the foreign kids that were often causing trouble. You wonder why the foreign kids did that? Well, they were trying to cope with the feeling of alienation. I was often left alone because kids thought I knew karate. Back in the early nineties, stereotypes weren’t viewed as racist in Europe. What did kids even know?
At this early stage, you’re supposed to learn how to build relationships (or make friends). Fitting in isn’t an easy process, especially if your personality doesn’t carry much extroversion; in a personality test, I only scored average levels of extroversion.
I was at a point in life where I really needed to know as much about myself as possible. The reason for that was because, like many foreign kids, I had trouble finding a place in society. Despite being born in Germany, I hated my eyes and my skin colour. It had made me feel different. I had no confidence in my own skin.
My parents wondered what was wrong with me. They sent me to the school psychologist who did some behavioural tests to which I didn’t respond. However, no one ever dug deep enough through the roots or asked the right questions.
In fact, the kindergarten had kicked me out for not socializing or talking. The teachers concluded that I was a bad influence on the children. I remember standing petrified in the middle of the room every day – watching others play, but I didn’t understand why I wasn’t doing the same. Whoever I was, I wanted to escape that body.
I was almost eleven when my mother bought me my first journal. The first entry was eye-opening, as I was suddenly able to express myself in a way that I’d never thought was possible. Daily routines, dreams and observations had found a special place in my journal, as well as the registration and analysis of thoughts and actions.
A few years later, I discovered what you can do with fiction and the power that you have over a story. Fiction was the only thing I ever knew. You may want to call it escapism, but stories and characters were the only things I could ever relate to.
One good thing you can say about writers is that they will always be on a journey and, therefore, have lots of adventures that will constitute who they become.
The school environment had triggered a form of social anxiety, which stopped me from being who I was. Either that or I didn’t feel comfortable being me. It took me years to make friends. However, I discovered Punk at fifteen and for the first time in my life, I had confidence. It’s definitely a trait that helps you make friends. More importantly, I learned that there are three phases of getting to know people. There’s the “love at first sight” impression where everyone wants to be your friend. As soon as the “post-honeymoon” phase kicks in and your friends discover a weakness or a disagreeable characteristic about you, they’ll think twice about you. This typically happens in relationships.
It doesn’t always take people long to figure out who they are. It may take a childhood or adolescence. In severe cases, it may take your whole life. It depends on your personality, your point of view, your struggles, and your circumstances.
People in the arts (i.e. writers, artists, etc.) will have the toughest roads due to their endless need to express themselves and create meaning around them. And everybody else needs their creativity for entertainment (and marketing) purposes.
I even looked into astrology to find meaning in the planets and their alignments. But they’re always changing, and so am I. Foucault is telling us to see ourselves as a journey. It doesn’t matter where this train is taking you as long as you’re going somewhere.
Since nothing is constant, there lies no importance in finding out who and what you are. Not knowing the end of a story is what will always keep us going.
Clearly written and well put article.