“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson's work is for me truly inspirational because here you have an American author born more than 200 hundred years ago in Boston who through his writings is sending us a message that revolves around trusting our intuition, being grateful, following our heart and making efforts to live a happy, compassionate life. It couldn't be more timely!
There are many quotes from Emerson that make us ponder. In another blog post, I've already written a bit about this quote, ”Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
The quote at hand today, may resonate with you as much as it does with me. Emerson is asking us to be ourselves even though all the forces of the external world are continuously trying to change us into something inauthentic. We all know first-hand the world we live in which seems to value people fitting in, not rocking the boat, going with the flow of what already exists. Some families and schools discourage their kids from standing out, expressing themselves, even from asking questions. We are to follow the norm.
We do so much of this⏤following the norm⏤growing up that we even don't realize that we are doing it. In our minds, we may be the trendsetter or the trailblazer but in our actions, we stay the course of what we think will be agreeable. Just notice this in our world and it will be easy to see. For instance, next time you go to a movie theatre, be alert to the traffic patterns of people. I've noticed at least three instances of "herd mentality" in the movies. The first is when the movie ends. Everyone is rushing out of the theatre and you can see that some people want to stay and watch the end credits but feel a silent pressure to stand up and leave. And the second is when they follow the others when coming out of the aisle, even if those before them take a longer route out.
And the third is when people are actually leaving the theatre building. There are crowds of people who want to exit the building but they will all follow the guy ahead of them and even wait a long while until all those ahead of him are out; while three other sets of doors are completely empty, waiting to be opened. I've noticed this at airports, at grocery stores and bookstores. No one wants to be the first one to lead and go out the other, completely open sets of doors.
What could be the reason for this? People just don't care so much about leaving the building? Or they are not reflective or alert of their surroundings to notice that there are other options? Or they don't want to stand out by being the lone wolf walking through the other doors while everyone else watches them? Or perhaps, other completely different reasons are at play?
Something To Show For It
Regardless of the reason, this is a kind of inability to think for ourselves. I know myself how awkward it feels at an airport to take a new path, especially, when traveling in a new country and not knowing how things are meant to be set up. It is about taking a chance. And it's about being okay to be vulnerable and gawked at by strangers. But it is also about having invested the time to reflect on ourselves and being true to ourselves.
Some years ago, I spoke on the phone with a childhood friend of mine with whom I had lost contact for 10-15 years. We were catching up and sharing details of our lives with each other. At one point, he said to me, "Yea, I'm married, have two kids...well, I am 35 and should have something to show for it, right?". He said it as if those events in his life were his report card or progress report for his age and that he needed to have that in order to earn the right to be 35. I was so taken back by this statement that I just smiled and moved on with the conversation.
Needless to say, I was delighted that he had all those things but I would be just as happy for him if he were a lone wanderer of the globe with no partner and no steady job ⏤ as long as he was happy. I don't know how much of the herd mentality or social norms he was following and how much was part of his own life trajectory. One never knows the whole story so I am certainly not going to make conclusions. But his statements did make me think.
How Not Being Ourselves Shows Up
How about you? Are you aware of how herd mentality shows up in your life? I've certainly found myself trying to unearth what I truly want vs. what I think is expected of me. Here are some example of herd mentality from my own life and from observing others:
Not being truly ourselves can show up in many ways. Here is a selection:
1. Saying yes to invitations and requests when I actually want to say no.
2. Taking on a new project for a client when I actually would prefer taking on another instead.
3. Doing the 9-5 day schedule even as a freelancer or solopreneur working from home and can comfortably set your own hours. (I've felt so bad when I've started my day at 10am instead of 9 or 8 even if I may, on that same day work many more hours than an 8 hour corporate job).
4. Sending out greeting cards because that's what's done instead of that being something you truly want to do. Hey, I'm actually going to be selling postcards in my Shop soon and I love writing cards so I'm all for writing cards. But only when I truly want to; not because that's what is done. Although, I have felt bad at times for skipping on the annual Holiday cards in December. I hope that people who buy my postcards are not burdened by cultural obligations).
5. Not expressing your preferences about your own life out of concerns of being rejected. This one is tough and I've been here many a times. We want to be loved and accepted and we fear that expressing our own choices (which we know may not be liked by the people we want the love and acceptance from) will make us disliked and even ostracized from a community.
6. Having an emotional crisis when faced with the opportunity of adopting 7 cats, even though you have the space and resources to care for them all. This one is very personal! The stress and worry of being thought weird by my family or friends or being pejoratively looked down upon as the "crazy cat-lady" by neighbors was very real. (This is something I dealt with last spring (2017) and I am so happy I share that I did overcome the social bias and we now have 7 beautiful kittens :-) living with us happily. Today, March 9th is infact their one year birthday! Yayy!
7. Wearing heels, putting on makeup, wearing tight clothes and dying our hair all out of concerns of being perceived beautiful and well-groomed not so much out of our own desire towards what we want. Wearing flats to a wedding in 2011 was a big event for me. (It took me a while to finally say goodbye to all these. Not dying my black hair when silver and grey strands are appearing has been the hardest one for me. I've rarely seen a woman in her 30's with grey hair and the ladies in their 40's, 50's, and 60's seem to still have perfectly pitch black or blonde hair.)
(If you dye your hair, know that I am not judging you and accept your choice to do so. What I am writing here is about people feeling authentic in who we are ⏤ for ourselves and not what others think we should do or how others think we should be. The societal norms about hair color does make it challenging to follow what feels right but I like not to have to fuss over my hair color. The last time I dyed my hair with an all natural dye, the color faded away with the next shower! Too much effort for something that just doesn't feel right for me.)
8. Shaving one's head bald. This is challenging for both men and women. Even cutting one's hair short is deemed problematic in some cultures, let alone shaving off all of one's hair. A friend of mine recently did this (for personal healing of an old wound) and she looks amazing!
9. What kind of job we should have, when we should have kids, that we should have kids, that we should be married, when we should be married, who we should love, where we should live...and so on. All these unspoken and at times open rules from others about how we should live our lives according to some other force, instead of our own choices ⏤ is a real source of pressure and mental anguish for so many.
I'm confident that if you take a look around and even reflect on your own life, you will see the pernicious effects of societal norms and how they influence your actions.
These unspoken worldly rules affect the things we do, the way we think, the way we buy and the way we relate to one another. At times, we may even find it hard to distinguish between our own needs and wants and what we think our parents, friends and the general societal expectations are of us. But it doesn't have to be. And being ourselves doesn't have to be scary. In fact, the more we follow our own heart, the more peaceful our lives become.
This could be the final clue that unlocks the riddle
I think, the key to being ourself is to remind ourself that we can be who we are (unless you are living in a nation where the laws prohibit it, which then is extremely challenging and dangerous). To take ownership of our life and our decisions is one of the gifts of being an adult. You can choose your own path. I remember being a kid and saying to myself that when I am an adult I will adopt many cats (now that I have 7 of them, I really am in 7th heaven!). Being an adult comes with a true freedom which we must take advantage of.
I don't care if you follow the herd in the movies or dye or hair because you feel peer-pressure. But for the things that are truly close to your heart, please dare to take a different path ⏤ your path. Know that you are allowed to make choices that feel aligned with what you want. If you want to travel and have been putting it off for years, now is the time to go after your dreams. If you've wanted to start a blog and write to share your insights, now is the time. Whatever it is that you want for your life, let no social norm or family pressures stop you. It may be the best gift you gave yourself⏤one that could be the key to your fully embracing yourself and finally, sipping from the delight that this life is. This could be the final clue that unlocks the riddle of your true happiness.
Please share your thoughts on this rather lengthy article! Thank you for reading it all the way and I wish you much peace and inspiration for being true to yourself.
About the author of the quote:
"Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, essayist, and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25, 1803, in Boston, Massachusetts. After studying at Harvard and teaching for a brief time, Emerson entered the ministry. He was appointed to the Old Second Church in his native city, but soon became an unwilling preacher. Unable in conscience to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper after the death of his nineteen-year-old wife of tuberculosis, Emerson resigned his pastorate in 1831." ― Poets.org
Other quotes by Emerson:
"Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."
”Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.”
”To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
”What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
”Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –
”The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and you have lived well.”
”The only person you are destined to become is the person ou decide to be.”
”Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
”Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” See my blog about this quote here.