The Best Advice I’ve ever Gotten

It took 50 years before a generous, kindhearted, wickedly smart person gave me the one piece of advice that I’d not only never gotten, but of which I’d received the opposite end of the spectrum:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  You be You

​It has taken me some time to fully absorb the meaning of these three words. In fact, I still think about it and consider it most days. Reflecting on my life thus far I can say with frankness that no one in my life ever wanted that for me. Arguably, I should have come to it on my own, and I suppose I did in some respects as I frequently rebelled in small ways, but even in rebellion, I felt that it was wrong somehow, rather than what it should have been:  right, just and honest.

Whether it was my parents, Catholic School–they most certainly do not encourage individualism–the Army, my Corporate Overlords, or my choice in female companionship, the objective seemed to be to change me into someone else. The result of this was, and is, a constant internal conflict. Trying to appease various factions while trying to interpret what behaviors, actions or characteristics were appropriate for their particular whims leads to a perpetual feeling of falling short.

Research suggests that many of our traits, behavioral attributes, and how we respond to stimulus is hardwired in our brains from birth. For example, whether one responds well to new environments, or feels uncomfortable in unfamiliar settings is mostly outside of our control. Some people seek out stimulation to feed their high energy brains that get bored quickly without a cascade of chemical reactions from driving fast, or bungee jumping. For others, myself included, the thought of even walking to the edge of a cliff to dive into a lake below is paralytic. I am absolutely not, under any circumstances, jumping off that cliff. So what happens to the young person whose authority figures want, or even demand, that their behavior, likes, dislikes, tastes and reactions meet some predetermined model of idealism? The degree of discomfort most likely varies dramatically, but trying to force someone into situations or reactions that don’t come naturally to them is arguably not a recipe for success.

The maxim that birds of a feather flock together is closer to truth than most of the adages we fling around. People who are similar in personality are just going to get along better, have an easier time understanding each other and be naturally encouraging and supportive. This will undoubtedly lead to bringing out the best of what a person has to bring to the game of life. If however, one is not fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who understand and accept them, but instead with those who respond differently to the same set of factors, who just don’t get why you reacted a certain way, or why you don’t want to go to a party, or why you’re uncomfortable in a loud nightclub blaring electronica, or what could be so interesting on your smartphone, what you end up with is conflict. Regular, daily, continual conflict. If you’re the sort of person who wants to please, who doesn’t want confrontation or to see other people unhappy (feeling like it’s your responsibility somehow to fix it), you can spend a lifetime putting yourself on a shelf while you accommodate and conform to other’s expectations of you.

I am grateful for the eye-opening, life changing advice a bird of my exact feather passed along to me, and I hope I get to do the same for someone else I may meet along the path.

​ “Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.” ~ Christopher Hitchens

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