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Like Streams to the Ocean: Notes on Ego, Love, and the Things That Make Us Who We Are: Essaysc

Like Streams to the Ocean: Notes on Ego, Love, and the Things That Make Us Who We Are: Essaysc

by Jedidiah Jenkins


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Notes From Your Bookseller

The second book from the thoughtful Jenkins after his amazing debut, To Shake the Sleeping Self. Here, he considers what one must do to live a full and authentic life by focusing on key questions we must all ask ourselves. As he did in his first book, Jenkins' gift of self reflection and observation draws us in and inspires us to do more, try more and be more and to be grateful for our lives.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “As inviting, wide-ranging, and philosophical as an all-night conversation with a best friend, and as revealing and thought-provoking as the diary of a curious adventurer.”—Sasha Sagan, author of For Small Creatures Such as We

You can travel the world looking for yourself, but if you don't know what you're looking for, how can you find it? Like Streams To The Ocean is about examining the things that make us who we are and getting to know ourselves, our stories, and the decisions that shape our one and only life. 
Writing with the passion and clarity that made his debut, To Shake the Sleeping Self, a national bestseller, Jedidiah Jenkins brings together new and old writings to explore the eight subjects that give life meaning: ego, family, home, friendship, love, work, death, the soul.

Who am I? What am I made of? How much of how I act boils down to avoiding the things that make me feel small? As he examines the experiences that shape our conscious and subconscious answers to these questions, Jenkins leads readers in a wide-ranging conversation about finding fulfillment in the people and places around us and discovering the courage to show our deepest selves to the world.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593137253
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/01/2022
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 91,927
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

Jedidiah Jenkins is a travel writer, an entrepreneur, and the New York Times bestselling author of To Shake the Sleeping Self. A graduate of USC and Pepperdine University School of Law, Jenkins began his professional career with the nonprofit Invisible Children, where he helped orchestrate multinational campaigns to end the use of child soldiers in central Africa. His parents, Peter and Barbara Jenkins, are the authors of the bestselling A Walk Across America series. He is the executive editor of Wilderness magazine. Jenkins’s work has appeared in The Paris Review and Playboy, and he has been covered by National Geographic.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.—John Muir

My friend Lauren cofounded a nonprofit called Kind Campaign. She travels to schools around the country and speaks with young girls about bullying, unhealthy friendship, and identity. She looks younger than she is, she is stylish, and she is beautiful. This piques the girls’ attention, that she is some strange creature who is adult and cool, yet young and definitely not a teacher. At these talks, Lauren shares her story of being bullied in seventh grade and how it spiraled her into a severe depression and suicidal state. She teaches the girls that sometimes it’s hard to see outside their school hallways. How, even though it feels like school is their entire world, it’s important to realize it’s just one chapter of their story. That there’s beauty, friendship, adventure, and so much life lying ahead of them. And to know that when they are struggling with things that feel big and scary, they can reach out for help. That no one has to suffer alone.

She once told me a story of a high schooler who was kicked out of her friend group and forced to get something like one hundred likes on each Instagram post and some ghastly number of new followers each day before she could sit with the other girls at lunch. This girl was so distraught, she told Lauren that she spent all her free time after school making fake accounts so that she could like her own posts and follow herself. “I have to do it,” she said. “I’m miserable, but I have no choice.”

Lauren hears endless stories like this—stories of brokenness, of girls confused and lost and trapped and scared.

Recently, a twelve-year-old came up to Lauren after the assembly. The girl was tiny, holding her hands down in front of her, making herself as small as possible as she gathered the strength to speak. “Can I ask you a question?” she mumbled.

Lauren leaned down. “I’m sorry—what, my darling?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” Lauren said, now squatting to make herself smaller than the girl.

“Is it okay if I don’t know who I am?”

Lauren gave her a look of understanding. Her heart broke at the baldness of the girl’s honesty. She gave herself a second to think of an answer.

“It’s perfectly fine to feel like you don’t know yourself,” she said finally. “One of the most beautiful parts of life is getting to know yourself over time, and that can change during different chapters of your life, too. I am still getting to know myself.”

“You are?” the young girl said.

“Yes, I am. I know a lot about myself at this age. I like myself. But there is so much more to know. You are on a wonderful journey. You’re exactly where you should be.”

“Okay. Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

The girl gave Lauren a half smile and stiffly hugged her. “Okay, thank you,” she said, matter-of-factly.

What if I don’t know “who” I am? There are layers in that girl’s question. So much of life is lived in magnetic attraction to undefined concepts. Love. Meaning. Fulfillment. We all want to be somebody. But what is a somebody?

When I look back at my nervous journal entries, old photos, and confessions from high school and college, I see a through line. Every time I’ve been in a state of flux, of change, I fear that I will be trapped there. “Will this confusion last forever?” I wonder. But it never does, and I haven’t grown weary yet in this business of uncovering, unmasking, and construction of who I am. It is both discovery and intention. And it is endless. And it’s okay.

Yes, I’m sure.

“Who” you are is the braided marriage of circumstance, ego, and soul, in that order. First you have circumstance, the “what” of your life. Where you were born. Your sex and gender. Your parents and your hair and your skin and bones. The ego knits this all together into a whole, a concept. It is what most of us would consider “who” we are. The container in which you build an identity and then defend it. The ego acts as your agent, manager, and lawyer, all while believing it is the thing itself. Its worst fear is to be belittled or unnoticed. It takes everything personally.

Your body walks into a party where you don’t know anyone. You feel anxious. That “you” is your ego. But another part of you is watching you get anxious. Something separate, but still you, is observing your ego, some higher part of you that says, “Why do I feel like this? Everyone seems so nice.” This is your soul. We’ve all done something mad or wild and said, “Who am I right now?” This is the division between the ego and the soul. The ego’s desires are based on the body, on scarcity and fear and lust and hunger. The soul’s desires are based on . . . ​well, what does the soul want? Completion? Balance? Understanding? Acceptance? It’s hard to know.

How strange is it that we’re all walking around with this crowd in our head: our body; our ego, which is the mind of the body; and our soul, which is the watcher, the cosmic something else. Maybe it’s nothing but a side effect of consciousness. But I am writing this right now, and I am also watching myself write it. Some part of me is above it, eternal, and cannot be hurt by failure or disgrace. What a nice part of me to seek out and cultivate.

We are three things. The car, the driver, and the awareness of it all.

I remember kissing a boy and experiencing all three parts. The sensation of touch and his weight on me. Of hands flying everywhere. I remember my ego paying close attention to how I was coming across. “Is my kiss right? Too much tongue? Not enough maybe? Is my hand okay here? Or does it seem like I’m swimming? Oh god. Okay, now every time I do something with my tongue, he does the exact same thing. Is he copying me? Maybe he’s nervous, too?” And then the soul awareness coming from above. “Look at yourself. Aren’t you funny, flailing on someone else as they flail on you. This is adorable. You’re doing great, sweetie.”


I think most people live the majority of their lives in ego. Defined by what they’re doing, what they’re thinking, how they organize and categorize the world. I do what makes me comfortable, and avoid what makes me insecure. That pretty much sums up my life.

I don’t like team sports. I have tragic hand-eye coordination and end up costing my team games. They laugh and say, “We’re just out here having fun! Doesn’t matter!” but I watch their eyes flare up in those moments of competitive adrenaline. They want to win. They love the animal thrill of victory, and I’m holding them back. So I avoid them. I tell them I don’t like getting dirty or that I have work to do. Inside, it brings up the shame I felt when I was soft and slow as a child. My ego chimes in: “This will embarrass you. Instead of trying, tell your friends sports are dumb. Call them ‘trite’ and ‘meaningless.’ Focus on other sources of esteem.”

This is also why I don’t like going to clubs, the kind where single people go to look cute and dance. It’s very lookie-loo and sexy, and I don’t fit in. I’m not an Adonis, and I don’t have good hair. Some of my friends love going. Dancing, getting hit on by strangers—it’s a lighthearted thrill for them. They know I hate it, though, so they complain about it to make me feel included. “Ugh, another guy wouldn’t leave me alone. I was like, dude, I’m here with my friends.”

And I’ll play along. “People are so desperate. I’m like, chill, let us live!” Of course, no one is ever hitting on me. But if I act annoyed, too, I can gather scraps of superiority.

I do like parties, though. I am good at talking, and people like my jokes. I meet new people and they laugh loudly and ask where I’ve been hiding all these years. Some of my friends don’t like these parties. They feel clumsy and insecure when talking to new people. A party of strangers is exhausting for them. I’ll walk away from a cackling stranger and complain to my friend standing alone, “This random person thinks I’m going to save their number in my phone and hang out. That’s cute.” I say this to make my friend feel special. They laugh with me. “People are clueless,” they say.

I wonder how much of who we are comes down to doing what we know we’re good at, and avoiding what makes us feel small. How far can we peel back the onion before our personalities are just equations and chemical reactions? Perhaps if we really knew what made us feel small, we would see that it had no business running our life.

Interviewer: “What do you dislike most about your appearance?”

Zadie Smith: “I like it all. Self-hatred is for younger, prettier women.”

—Vanity Fair

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Ego 3

Family 43

Home 69

Friendship 97

Love 143

Work 175

Death 211

The Soul 229

Acknowledgments 251

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