THE ART OF DOING YOU
Trying to figure out who I am and who I'm striving to be is something that has always concerned me a lot. Throughout my adolescence, changes regarding clothes, styling and interests were never left uncommented, which always really bothered me. It still does. Why is it impossible to try out things for myself without everyone watching and judging?
While this is probably not exclusive to me and my life, I have always felt like lots of the people around me pretty much knew where they were heading with their lives, whether that meant going to law school and starting a family or doing drugs in the park and choosing to be a "free spirit". I have always found myself stood on the junction of both these extremes, unsure of where I really belonged. I've also always wondered if I have to stop trying out at one point and make a final decision as to who I am going to be eventually.
In my life I have found that one of the things holding us back in the process of figuring ourselves out can be the criticism of the people around us, or rather the fear of it. It can prevent us from trying new things, often restricting the options we have. This is an issue that has stuck with me for a long time now and I would like to share the realisations I've made so far.
The skill of being able to do what you really want deep down shouldn’t be taken for granted because it doesn’t come easily despite the general assumption that somehow, it is an innate ability of humans. "Being yourself, how hard can it be, right? Literally just be you, lol." Well, wouldn't that be nice? In reality, though, it is actually hard work to truly be yourself. We are constantly surrounded by different influences, potential judgers and people who have certain expectations towards us and the way we behave, based on what they have come to get to know us as, whether they’re peers or parents. If someone has made up their mind about you and stuck a metaphorical label to your head, it is hard to get it off again without making them and in turn yourself feel uncomfortable. When people suddenly start acting differently or change in any way that’s considered untypical of them, it is often met with confusion. And it doesn’t really matter whether that’s a tiny detail like dying your hair pink when you’ve never changed your hair colour before or something huge like quitting your job as an investment banker to fulfil your dream of becoming a paper towel sniffer (yes, that’s a real thing).
Now, while the towel-sniffer-become-banker might seem to make sense (in a way), you might think ‘What’s the big deal about changing your hair?’ You would be surprised how many people feel anxious even about the smallest change because they don't want to face people noticing, pointing out and commenting on it. And I get that, it can be scary to present a new version of yourself to the people around you when you know they were completely comfortable with the way you were before. What are they going to think? What are they going to say?
This is where everyone is quick to shout: ‘It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, do whatever you want, it's your life!’ and change the subject. Why thanks, Jessica, that’s great advice! First of all, it is not that easy and second of all, it does matter to us what people think. We are a social species, it’s natural. Frankly, everyone who says they don’t care what people say is lying to themselves.
I think it is one of the biggest mistakes to constantly try and convince ourselves that other people’s opinions don’t matter to us because we will find ourselves caring anyway and then get frustrated. Like Kurtis Conner concluded in his endless wisdom in one of his recent podcast episodes (which I highly recommend listening to*), if you truly didn’t care about other people's opinions, then you would walk around naked. In my eyes, it is a huge misconception that the ultimate goal in life is to not give a shit. Instead we should come to terms with the fact that we might care what people are going to say about an aspect of our lives changing but then – and that’s the important part – do it anyway. Acknowledging that people might think differently but having the courage to be disliked.
It is also important to keep in mind that people can be quick to jump to conclusions and to say things they don’t actually mean. I know people who change their opinion more frequently than their pants. Nobody has cracked the code and everyone's perception of life and reality is different, so it would be a shame not to do something just because you are worried about someone judging you, who is just as clueless as you or simply has a completely different outlook on life.
Another realisation I've come to make is that sometimes people don’t actually care in the way you expect them to, especially when the change in your life is relatively minor. Sometimes people won’t even take notice, don’t react at all. Sometimes we worry too much and blow up the situation in our heads for nothing. A friend once pointed out to me that I may not be as interesting as I think I am when I was overthinking people’s potential reactions once again. As a matter of fact and being the narcissist that I apparently am, I actually hadn’t considered that – what a truly relieving revelation!
So yes, sometimes people might have an opinion that they happily share without being asked to and sometimes they don't have an opinion at all. In any case, we should never let potential criticism stand in the way of what we are doing. Just play out the following scenario in your head: What would your life look like, what would you wear, what would you do if the people around you had always seen you like that? If there were absolutely no consequences, no comments or opinions? Whatever comes to mind during this thought process is more than likely what you actually want for yourself.
It's also okay to change your mind and to realise yourself in many different ways. Labels are for losers and you don’t have to use your first, second or third prototype of yourself for the rest of your life. You can reinvent yourself as often as you like. And if the person you want to be is someone who is constantly changing then that’s fine too! This works the other way around as well: don’t feel pressured to change in any way if you are truly content with your life and who you are.
Be unapologetic when it comes to your happiness, and keep in mind that this does not always mean you have to say “Fuck you and your opinion”. This is not where confidence comes from. You can accept and acknowledge an opinion and still do what you think is best. Most of the time people will come around eventually, accept you for you and might even admire that about you. It can be tricky to overcome the fear of being disliked, but if we put our minds to it, we can get there.
Lastly, let's have a quick chat about the cute little pictures I have put here and there throughout this post and how they can mess with our own expectations towards ourselves. Instagram and Facebook are swamped with pseudo-aphorisms like these, which, in reality, do nothing for us except putting an end to the search for our next caption. On one hand the overwhelming number of these oh-so-profound quotes existing on social media is putting emphasis on our generation’s desire to just do whatever we want without or much rather despite being judged, and on the other, is making clear how difficult that actually is. While I do get the good intent behind them, I feel like the problem with these aesthetic pictures featuring advice on how to live your life correctly is that they make daring to be different or really just being yourself out the be super easy, which, as I have established above, it is not. "Just be yourself and be happy about it and do whatever you want! Just do it!"
This is bullshit and frankly hypocritical when considering how our generation in particular is having quite a hard time accepting otherness. Be different, but only so within the frame of what is accepted by society. I don’t really want to make this about society, and I don’t want to criticise or attack the system either. I’d feel quite uncomfortable doing so since I am undeniably one of the people sticking to the spectrum of socially predetermined behaviour. I simply want to stress that being truly yourself without feeling guilty or ashamed is often not as easy as social media and its colourful pictures suggest, even or especially when being very adjusted to society's standards and values.
The Art of Doing You is an extremely personal matter. What you make of it is completely up to you, but it does take courage and determination to pursue what you've decided to make of it. What's important is to figure out what you really want, to channel your desires and to live them out. Doing me is something that still doesn't come easy. Though I barely let anything get in the way of doing what I want, it still does take effort and mental strength to fight the voices in my head. The most important realisation I have made is that there is no such thing as one linear way of life. You don't have to choose and there are loads of different shades of grey. Whichever decisions you make, though, it is important to stand by them, else you are going to lose yourself kissing people's arses.
I would love to hear your own stories and thoughts on the challenge of being truly yourself, so feel free to leave a comment!
*Kurtis Conner's podcast is called Very Really Good
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