A recent quote by Alex Haley caught my attention: “To be a writer…you’ve got to want to write, not want to be a writer.” It reminds me of the difficult realities we face when making hard decisions.

Many have dreamed of being writers only to find out they dread the task of writing.

In psychology, this draws attention to the distinction between the experiencing self and the remembering self. The experiencing self is how you feel “in the moment,” the remembering self is how you feel about something after it happened. Some events are painful “in the moment,” but rewarding to tell stories about later. Others are enjoyable “in the moment,” but make boring stories.

Take two examples: 1) A Polar Bear Dip: where you willingly submerse yourself into near-freezing cold water. Now, if I were to say to you, “I am offering you a polar bear dip, but afterward it will be erased from your memory and everyone else’s memory,” Would most people still do it? Probably not. It's an imbalanced experience, made for the remembering self.

2) On the other hand, say I offer you a tropical vacation with the same condition: afterward, it will be erased from your memory and everyone else’s, with no pictures to show for it. How much would you be willing to pay for it? Probably significantly less than a normal vacation that is remembered. Even though your experiencing self is getting the exact same experience, we pay a large premium for our remembering self.

To make hard decisions, we cannot focus solely on one or the other. Our experiencing self is important for the purpose of day-to-day satisfaction and our remembering self is important for our self-perception and long-term satisfaction. While most people thrive better when focusing on their experiencing self, many people spend a tremendous amount of time and resources on their remembering self. Too much of one without the other is a recipe for an imbalanced life.

I also like to acknowledge our perceived self, which is the person we strive to be in the eyes of others, a close cousin of the remembering self. This is the part of us that is trying to be seen by others in a particular way. It is the part of us that Kurt Vonnegut refers to when he says “we are what we pretend to be.” The perceived self, like the remembering self, can cause us to make decisions and chase dreams that are actually quite dissatisfying in the moment.

The keyword here is balance. When we depend too much on one “self” for our well-being, we are bound to neglect other important parts of ourselves. Making hard decisions and finding our purpose does not happen apart from our daily reality, it must account for what we find genuinely fulfilling in the moment.

Ricky Giesbrecht

Ricky Giesbrecht


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