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When life doesn’t turn out the way we want, the relentless quest for both self-acceptance and self-perfection leads some people to retreat and consider starting over. It’s time for a new design.

The “look in” approach to life that prioritizes looking inside yourself to discover who you are, your true self, your desires, your dreams, then looking around to others to find affirmation and applause, can result in failures that lead us to a redo. I call this the “redesign” phase. I tried to pursue my dreams and desires, but perhaps I got it wrong. Let’s try it again––a new me, with different dreams and desires. So you take the effort to go back into yourself, figure out what it is you really want, and bring that out to the world again. 

You see this reinvention in the entertainment industry with stars who change up their image in order to remain relevant. In some cases, it may be that the famous person doesn’t know anymore who he is, and so he tries on different personas much like he’d give a performance, trying to figure out what fits. In other cases, perhaps the celebrity felt she was more authentic in the past, but over time came to doubt the flattery from all her fans and so adopted a new design—a different persona—to see if her followers would still accept and love her. 

Our Longing for Newness

You don’t have to be a movie star or celebrity to be drawn by the desire to have a new start or develop a new public image. In an age of social media where we constantly broadcast the details of our lives, it’s easier and feels more natural to try to redesign yourself than ever before. And that’s what many do. After growing frustrated with the person we’ve presented to the world, we may retreat for a time, or disappear from online interaction, not so we can stay forever hidden from the eyes of others, but so we can change costumes or rework our image. We consider ways we might redesign our lives, our look, our way of being in the world so we can be more popular or because we feel bored or unfulfilled. We used to call this a midlife crisis, but nowadays it can happen every few years. In the adolescent stages, it seems like it can happen even more frequently.

In an age of social media where we constantly broadcast the details of our lives, it’s easier and feels more natural to try to redesign yourself than ever before.

This longing for newness—to have a new name, a new image, a new reputation—drives us deeper and deeper inside ourselves, but all the digging begins to wear us out and wear us down. Just as we felt overly flattered or overly criticized for the person we put on display before, we wonder if we will feel the same after unveiling our new self. The doubts and self-criticisms mount in our hearts, and we wonder if we’re really being authentic, or if we’re sacrificing the path to reaching our fullest potential. The endless self-analysis can make us feel like our phone or computer when there are too many apps or windows open; it’s best to just shut down and restart (or look for an upgrade). 

The commonsense wisdom of the world says, Do it again. Go through the process again. Distressed and disappointed with yourself? Don’t wallow in guilt and anxiety. Just take another good, long look inside to discover your deepest desires, find a better way to define yourself, then display your individuality for the world to see and affirm. The cycle continues. We emerge with a “new and improved” self, and we go through the same anxiety-ridden process of seeing how others respond.

Finding Yourself by Looking Up

Self-discovery displayed for all to see, hoping to find affirmation, failing, “redesigning” ourselves to become someone new, and furthering the cycle continues to leave us depressed and unsure of ourselves. We still haven’t found fulfillment, purpose, or peace. We’ve found the opposite.

Change the process completely and not start by looking inside yourself, but by looking outside yourself, looking up to the only One who can truly make a ‘new you’—a better you, the you he created you to be.

The world’s anthem that all you need is to be you, to express yourself, to keep trying until you find “yourself,” over and over again, fails at so many levels. You end up simply running in circles when what you need to do is to stop.

Change the process completely and not start by looking inside yourself, but by looking outside yourself, looking up to the only One who can truly make a “new you”—a better you, the you he created you to be. There, and only there, are the answers we’re looking for.

Editors’ note: 

This article is an adapted excerpt from Trevin Wax’s new book, Rethink Your Self: The Power of Looking Up Before Looking In (B&H Books).

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