(This guest post was originally hosted at Jodie’s Journey.)
They say to be true to yourself. They say to be comfortable in your own skin, or in your own head. They say that courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear. They say a lot, don’t they, these gurus of the self.
I’m Tonks. Jodie’s mentioned me in passing over the years, and I’m honored to be a guest blogger in her world today. I feel rather qualified to write on this subject, as I have had a lifetime of standing apart from the norms of every possible “fit in” situation one could imagine. I don’t, and have never, fit into anyone’s box of ideals for an individual, and I stopped trying to do so many, many years ago. This, however, doesn’t mean that I have forgotten how hard it is to stand apart and be true to the self. Far from it. As it’s my first post here, I’d like to give you a bit of back story. I promise I’ll be brief- after all- this isn’t my forum. Just think of these as my credentials for what I’m about to share. I have wisdom, dear friends, and it was hard won.
If you look at me, I paint a difficult picture. I have an excess of full in my appearance: full pink hair, piled atop a full, round face. Full cleavage that make most men irritating to be near and make most women hate me on sight. Full, wide hips that bump into EVERYTHING and a full, fluffy belly to match all of my other round corners. I don’t so much enter a room as command an entrance- regardless of my hair color- whether I want it or not. I just… stick out. On the rare occasions where I do blend in (such as at a club where everyone else also has wildly colored hair and ample tracks of land) I usually end up tripping over my own klutzy self and spilling various parts of my excess into the room. I laugh too loud and too long, I don’t always remember to filter what may have just come spilling from my mouth and I almost always forget that not everyone can accept zany in their lives. I’m silly, puckish and often flirty. I go out of my way to avoid stepping on cracks in sidewalks and avoid green trash dumpsters like the plague. (Seriously- those things are the devil.) and while most of these aspects of me are difficult to hide, they all have absolutely nothing to do with who I actually am. They all, however, also define how the society I live within views me.
Like as not, the world we live in forces normality upon the individual spirit. Often this is actually an equalizing blessing, but for those of us who have always been the black sheep, it further separates our chances at “fitting in” or “being normal”. Sure, with my pink hair and my tattoos, I’m not exactly a candidate for political office or a shoe in for Prom Queen, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t carry fears and doubts about “being true to me”.
But how do we get away with it? How does an individual work within the expectations of society and social pressures while still being true to what they believe in?
1. Get Happy. I’m a firm believer in being yourself, no matter what that might mean to you. If you’re an asshole, and are happy being an asshole, then hell! Get on out there and be the best damn asshole you can be. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, as long as you are happy living the life you were given. You’re only given one shot at this life, so you might as well just embrace what makes you happy. Not sure what makes you happy? See number 2. It’s gonna hurt, but anyone who has seen The Neverending Story knows that “It has to hurt if it’s to heal!”
2. Get Over Yourself. There are harsh truths that everyone needs to face. Nobody likes it. It doesn’t get easier with time. You, and every other person ever alive will fight against these changes, but let’s just think of it as one of those unifying factors of the human condition shall, we? Go here and read this article. Seriously. Right now. It’s gonna open in a new window, and you need this info before we can move on. I’ll wait.
See what I’m talking about? Being “you” doesn’t really mean any of the things we’ve been told all of our lives. It doesn’t mean gloriously dancing against the grain, although it can include that. It doesn’t mean that you get validation for being “unique” or “special”. You don’t get a gold star at the end of the day, and nobody is gonna hand you a cupcake for being “true to yourself”. Feeling uncomfortable? Go watch the video of Alec Baldwin in the linked article again. Watch it until it sinks in. You’re not special because you’re an individual, my friends. Everyone is an individual. You’re only special if you do something special. Which brings us to Number 3.
3. Understand That Who You Are Inside Only Matters To Others Because Of What It Makes You Do. I think that the fruit-bearing tree analogy given in the aforementioned article said it best:
See, there’s a common defense to everything I’ve said so far, and to every critical voice in your life. It’s the thing your ego is saying to you in order to prevent you from having to do the hard work of improving: “I know I’m a good person on the inside.” It may also be phrased as “I know who I am” or “I just have to be me.”
Don’t get me wrong; who you are inside is everything — the guy who built a house for his family from scratch did it because of who he was inside. Every bad thing you’ve ever done has started with a bad impulse, some thought ricocheting around inside your skull until you had to act on it. And every good thing you’ve done is the same — “who you are inside” is the metaphorical dirt from which your fruit grows.
“You” are nothing but the fruit.
Nobody cares about your dirt. “Who you are inside” is meaningless aside from what it produces for other people.
Because all I’m asking you to do is apply the same standard to yourself that you apply to everyone else. Don’t you have that annoying Christian friend whose only offer to help anyone ever is to “pray for them”? Doesn’t it drive you nuts? I’m not even commenting on whether or not prayer works; it doesn’t change the fact that they chose the one type of help that doesn’t require them to get off the sofa. They abstain from every vice, they think clean thoughts, their internal dirt is as pure as can be, but what fruit grows from it? And they should know this better than anybody — I stole the fruit metaphor from the Bible. Jesus said something to the effect of “a tree is judged by its fruit” over and over and over. Granted, Jesus never said, “If you want to work here, close.” No, he said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
4. Society will accept so much more of the “you in you” if the you you are is someone sharing the tasty fruit mentioned above. If you want to be true to who you are and still be able to function in the rules and regulations modern western civilization has laid down for us, than the path of least resistance (and ultimately personal acceptance) involves being who you are while giving of your own fruit. Create something. It doesn’t have to be new, and it doesn’t have to make you money, but it does have to be useful to someone. Cook a meal for a neighbor. Give of yourself unto someone who has less. Create the things that make you happy (see Numbers 1 and 2 again) and share them with society. Let others decide if what you have to offer is what they need- don’t cut yourself down.
Personally, I love to provide a bit of comic relief to the world at large. I’m the non-sequitur type of individual who will go out of her way to force others to look at the world differently. Sometimes that means simply kicking off my shoes to run in the grass while the hoards of office workers dump in and out of buildings downtown. Sometimes it means zerberting my face onto the window as my metro train pulls out from the station, just to see how many people might see and laugh. Yeah, sure, I get a kick out of it. I’m doing it for me, because it makes me laugh. But I’m also doing it for each person that got to laugh on the way home in rush hour. It’s a win win, and everyone takes a prize.
If the core of whom you are trying to be as an individual revolves mostly around yourself, you’re missing the whole point. Going out on a limb and being different isn’t just a way for you to blow off some steam as society tells you “NO, NO, NO!” . They’re telling you “NO” because you’re not giving anything back. But I guarantee you that if you stand apart with a big tray of cupcakes and pass them out, while still being the best damn asshole you can be, Society will not only accept “you”, but will embrace you. Furthermore, they will eat all of your assholing cupcakes because that’s just how they roll. So be sure to keep a few at home for the you that is youer than you.
5. Connect with your universe. If you take only one thing away from reading this, then kindly fold this up and stuff it into your pocket like a lucky charm. There is nothing- not a single thing on this earth- that will keep someone true to who they want to be than by connecting to what is most important to them. For some, it’s religion. For others, it’s social interaction. For me (and many other odd ducklings like me), it’s whimsy. I firmly believe that there is no greater force for positive change on this planet than the power and importance of being silly. Want to learn more? Go here and watch this video. It will be the greatest ten minutes of your day, I promise. You want a template for joy? He’s written the book.
In closing, I want to say that these lessons don’t just happen, but I do hope that some of these points help others rethink the way they look at both the world around them as well as themselves. Being true to yourself only means something if who you are is someone that inspires, and is in turn, inspired by others.