Maybe it’s because I’m in my 20s, but it seems that everyone I meet is trying to become more attuned with whom he or she really is; they’re looking to discover the real John or Jane. Not the John conforming to high-school pressures, or majoring in a field he hates because it leads to a well paying job, or the John mindlessly working the awful eight to five he was destined to hate.
When you’re a child the question of who you are never crosses your mind. Why would it? When you’re eight years old you like dinosaurs, pop rocks is your favorite food, and you’re going to be an astronaut when you turn eighteen and instantly grow up. At eight years old you’re a bit of a nerd, have horrible nutritional habits, and unrealistic career expectations, but you don’t question any of that. It’s just who you are.
Sadly, somewhere along the way to adulthood we were taught that being that little eight year old child simply wasn’t acceptable. We had to figure out who we really were; we had to fit into some previously established archetype. We had to grow up and go to a university where we would be sorted, put into boxes, and come out doctors, lawyers, or business executives. The alternative, of course, being some sort of bohemian lifestyle where we hold down jobs as baristas, cater-waiters, and dog-walkers while developing our craft, making a lot of wide-sweeping comments about society as a whole, and eating vast quantities of tofurkey.
Sometimes it seems like Hollywood has really only produced a dozen or so unique movies, and everything else is just a variation on a theme. We’ve had so many sequels, reboots, and adaptations over the last ten years– it’s as if no one can use their imagination anymore. It seems that the executives are too afraid to take a risk on a movie that isn’t guaranteed an incredible return.
I think that mentality translates into our own personal lives. We’ve charted out life paths that are more prone to lead to “success”, and we believe it’s too much of a risk to depart from those models. There’s a little room for variation, but for the most part we have to stick to the plan– no big risks.
Whether we’re “mainstream” or “alternative” we’re still living in a blockbuster production.
We live in an age that has commercialized the anti-commercialization movement. Terms like “social justice”, “going green”, and “free-trade” have increasingly become slogans and brands rather than movements or political ideals.
Legions of “alternative” individuals roam the streets of our cities with their iPhones, venti decaf soy lattes, socially conscience clothes, and false sense of identity– each completely unaware that by trying to escape social norms of the generation before them, they’ve fallen into a demographic all their own.
Meanwhile, those embracing “mainstream” culture continue to worship vapid celebutantes, clamor for weightless music, and buy into American consumerism hook, line, and sinker.
We’ve become so enraptured by labels, causes, and lifestyles, that we’ve forgotten who we really are behind the aviators and ironic facial hair. That little eight year old is still in there– somewhere.
We still have big, and sometimes simple, dreams. We may have degrees in business or biology, but we really just want to teach Yoga or tutor children in failing school districts.
The thing about success is this: only you can define it.
No one is going to live to 100 years and be thankful that he lived his life based around someone else’s goals and expectations.
So, what am I doing to get in touch with my eight year old self? Well, I’ve started by throwing out all of my pre-conceived notions of who I should be, and recognizing all of the random, and often contradictory, qualities that make me who I am.
- I don’t care about saving large aquatic animals, in fact, the only time I think about them is while watching Planet Earth on The Discovery Channel (because while I don’t care about the planet, I do like watching it on Blu Ray).
- I despise racism, but I think it is ridiculous to be so caught up in political correctness. Let’s just have honest conversations without worrying about saying the wrong things.
- I own multiple computers, cameras, and more clothing than I care to admit, but claim to be poor.
- I love Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine, Matisyahu, Ray Lamontagne, and pretty much anything on the Billboard Top 40.
- I have read A Tale of Two Cities, Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment, and Twilight.
- I am sarcastic but want nothing more than to be a source of encouragement to others.
I feel pressured everyday to box all of these attributes up and slap a label on it. I attempt to present myself as a product; I want you to buy in and support me. The truth is that I have no idea if I’m going to live in America for the rest of my life or spend my life experiencing new cultures and environments. I have no idea if I’ll feel ready to get married and have children. I have no idea if I’ll succeed as a writer and communicator or if I’ll simply tell funny stories around the dinner table for the rest of my life.
I don’t even know if I’ll ever break past 200 followers on Twitter, but the point is that I don’t want fear to be the reason any of those things do or do not happen. I don’t want to be closing up the final chapter of my life asking, “who am I” or even worse “who could I have been?”
The following is a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, and it has become something of a mantra for me as I move forward with life:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
When did you feel most sure about your life? Maybe it was as a child, in high-school, or even right now?