Society holds us to a certain standard
Work hard in school, go to a good college, get a good job. There are a lot of things that we could do in our lives that would be considered, by those closest to us, our friends, our family, and society as a whole as good. There are countless amazing jobs, industries that need innovation, and roles to fill in our society.
Forget about all of that. Forget about what it means to be cool, forget why you need to look good and act like everyone.
The greatest people of our time are remarkably different than the average person, and it’s not because they were born that way. It’s because they made the decision not to worry about everyone else. For some people, this is more conscious than it is for others. Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, for example, said in a speech I heard that he spent his first 6 years of life reading books, not surrounded by others. By the time that he was around other people, he realized he wasn’t missing much and never felt a need to conform. Others get sucked into how we are supposed to act and eventually realize and work their way out of it.
It’s easy to look at the most successful people and say they have something special that we don’t, but that’s entirely not the case. I love Conor McGregor’s quote, “There’s no talent here, this is hard work. This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equal as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that is that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.” I can, first-hand, vouch for that. Being in San Francisco for the summer, I have met some people that are doing remarkable things, and while they are awesome people, it’s because they have worked hard and smart, and they have pursued the things they are passionate about with a maniacal focus, not because they were born with certain genes.
Going through college, it’s so easy to look at others, our parents, and our teachers and listen to what they have to say about what we need to do to be successful. Success is different in everyone’s eyes, though, and working on something you truly love is an experience that can change anyone’s life.
It applies everywhere
The crazy thing is that this applies to literally everything. It’s not just thinking independently about what you want to study or what career you want to have. It’s thinking independently about how you want to spend your time, what you want to eat, how social you want to be, what music you want to listen to. For so many of us, we want to feel important, and we think that in order to feel important we need to act like everyone else. If we like the same music as everyone else, if we go out and drink on the weekends, then, since that is what is respected in so many circles, we think it’ll make us happy. In fact, though, the thing that makes us happy is so individualized. Some people get endless pleasure from going outside and watching birds for hours on end. I’d be pulling my hair out after 5 minutes.
Isn’t this clear?
The idea of this seems very obvious. if someone told me three years ago that the need to be yourself would be at the forefront of my mind right now, I wouldn’t have believed it. Once you realize, though, how hard it is to be 100% yourself, you’ll start to catch all the times in your day that you conform. This could be in the way you try to seek validation around someone you want to like you, or it could be in your decision to eat an unhealthy meal since you don’t want to feel awkward around your coworkers, even though you’re on a diet.
Actually being yourself and doing what you truly want to do is hard. The thing that compounds to make it even harder is that sometimes, if you are deep enough in, it can be difficult to separate what you actually want to do versus what you think you should be doing. It has been ingrained in me that to have fun I have to go out, drink and ‘party’ in some sense. For a long time when I would go out, I truly believed it was how I wanted to be spending my time. If you are doing something that you don’t need to do for some extraneous reason and you’re thinking “I don’t like this, but I’m going to do it because I should”, then you are falling prey to the same issue. I actually prefer to spend time hanging out with a smaller group of people or going on various adventures with good friends.
Of course, if you have a job, even if you like it, there will be things you have to do that you won’t enjoy, but those are the edge cases.
For some people this is harder than for others, entirely based on how we grew up. But just like nobody is born as a genius or star athlete, this is something that can be worked on.
I have seen tremendous progress over the past month, and I know I’ll continue to as I grow more confident in being myself and I begin to understand what that even means.