The Dangers of Self-Image vs Self-Actualization

"Many people dedicate their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like, rather than actualizing themselves. This difference between self-actualizing and self-image actualizing is very important. Most people live only for their image."-Bruce Lee

Go back and reread that quote. Go ahead.

After doing so, you'll have one or two initial reactions.

You might think about your life and think about times you invested a lot of energy in trying to live up to some ideal you thought others had of you.

Or you'll shrug and think it doesn't apply to you—"I don't do that"—while quickly moving on.

Hopefully, you had the former response.

If you didn't, if you just shrugged off that quote as something you don't do, I implore you to take that as a sign that that is EXACTLY WHAT YOU DO.

And you probably do it far more than you realize.

Don't be so hard on yourself.

The prerequisite for change is first accepting change is needed or wanted. If you are an ever-evolving person (you should be), then each year, you should be looking back at your previous self and laughing at how smart you used to think you were.

I do this every year.

For you to break free from the good options of others, you must first accept that these pressures exist. Then, you have to figure out to what extent they subconsciously dictate your life.

This will take some time. These things are usually not readily available at the surface. Instead, they are built on top of a massive amount of conditioning and story-telling we've told ourselves.

Maybe you've already spent years doing things to please other people, like pursuing a legal degree or becoming a doctor.

In a case like that, it's going to be painful to examine your motives.

But you must.

I'm not suggesting you need to change careers or paths. To proceed on any path without fully understanding the motivations, understanding your why is one of the most dangerous things for long term happiness.

You don't want to spend 20 years being busy with something that you finally realize one morning is making you miserable.

This happens all the time. If only I were exaggerating.

So yes, we all must identify our motivations to tease out what things we do for the perception of other people. Only then can we decide to do it in a way that is for us or not at all. After all, that is the only way for a sustainable life in which you control your thoughts and behaviors. It must always come from inside.

As you pursue this path of identifying your subconscious motives involving other people, keep in mind the fact that you are human, and so you will always have the pull of other people influencing your behavior. This is human nature. It is built into our DNA.

This doesn't mean you have to be a salve to it, though. You can break the chains of social and societal pressure. And the first step in doing so is self-awareness.

I'm sure you have experiences in the past in which you went overboard, trying to impress others. Maybe you did something nefarious, reckless, stupid, or not well considered. Maybe you learned your lesson. Maybe you didn't.

We all have these stories because we were all once children and teenagers.


I remember one instance in high school that I still remember vividly when I realized how dumb I was.

I was a senior in high school, and I started seeing a junior. She was cute, smiled a lot (that matters a lot), and had a great personality.

After hanging out a couple of times, I started to worry my self-image didn't mesh well with her image. I started worrying about what some of my classmates might say if they found out.

So after having out a few times, and genuinely enjoying her company, I broke it off.

Years later, in one of those ironic life lessons you can't make up, I was hanging out at the gym with some high school buddies, and her name came up as a topic. I almost remember what part of the gym we were at; the lesson was that visceral.

I remember their comments, all positive, that went something like this:

"Dude, she was hot."

"She was cool."

"Why did you stop hanging out with her?"

And so on.

I sheepishly nodded, smiling to myself while also kicking myself.

Most importantly, I learned a powerful lesson that day that went something like this: "WTF was I thinking?"

What an idiot you were to worry about what others might think. Idiot.

The irony is, had I bought it up, I would have received positive reinforcement. Ahh, such is life; we must learn the hard way more often than not.

And this is just one example of the danger of self-image.

There are countless everyday examples of choices we make, often for the worse, that are influenced by fear of self-image.

The more you focus on doing what you feel is right rather than doing what you feel others think is right, the better your life will be and the more likely you will avoid stupid mistakes like the one I made.

It's often we are afraid of a failure and what others will think rather than the actual thing itself.

Many people are more concerned with other people knowing they lost $10,000 in a business venture than losing the actual money.

Again, such is the power of self-image.

When you can cultivate your own self-actualization, you'll end up getting the self-image part as a result of taking risks and putting in the work.

The world is weird and ironic like that.