June 29, 2008
Deciding to be yourself is scary. There’s no one to follow, and well, what if they don’t like me? But if you can make that bet, the act of actually being you is easy. All you have to do is wake up in the morning.
This afternoon, I watched a tiny spider trying to climb its near-invisible silk. As far as I could tell, its intention was to climb the thread to the top and reach safety. A slight breeze affected those intentions. After battling the draft for a few minutes, the spider lost out. It landed on the ground, far from its desired destination.
You could fight the breeze your whole life. Or you could position yourself to sidestep it altogether.
Ryan wrote about defining yourself in the above quote. Glenn wrote in a comment on that entry:
People are vulnerable to the influences of others for a very specific reason; peer pressure doesn’t just strike randomly.
My message isn’t to find yourself. Or to closely monitor the crowd you’re a part of. Those are tired, common maxims.
John commented on one of my entries that social networking sites have provided an unmatched insight into their users’ psyches. Upon registering, you’re immediately presented with myriad opportunities to define yourself. Interests. Location. About you. Education and employment history.
Of course, there’s a reason why you’re presented with these options. We tend to want to place each other into distinct boxes. It’s how we make sense of the world. The conflicts begin when your definitions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The inherent problem with defining yourself based on a handful of universal markers – birthplace, location, hobbies, dress style – is that you’re constantly open to misinterpretation. If you define yourself as an engineering student who loves to drink and party, you’re expected to adhere to those definitions at all times. Most people can’t look beyond this fundamental attribution error.
It’s hard. I loathe defining myself. That tagline at the top of the page? It’s bullshit. So is the slightly elaborated descriptor here. Defining yourself based on a handful of interests or accomplishments marginalises the million other thoughts you have each day.
You are what you do. I disagree with that statement in the context of study or employment. You know what I mean. You’re at a party. Someone asks you what you do. What they mean, of course, is what you study. Or where you work. You respond, and a bunch of assumption seeds are planted in their head, before your eyes.
I’m not trying to pretend that I’m above any of this.
Play the game. Humour those who try to pigeonhole you. Never understate your inner values.