In fourth grade, my teacher had a banner with the oft-quoted Oscar Wilde encouragement to be ourselves.
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
Despite commonly being told to be ourselves, I don’t think many of us listen. And maybe for good reason.
To be oneself is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to risk expulsion from our in-groups. It’s a delicate line to balance on.
As much as I would love to “simply not give a fuck,” I don’t really think that’s a practical lesson for having an impact. We are social animals, and we accomplish far more by working together than by isolating ourselves.
And yet, less than a year into college, I can’t help but wonder — am I where I am because this is where I belong or because this is what I was told to do?
In a podcast episode with one my friends from college, I asked her what advice she would give to her high school self. She was hesitant, arguing that if she gave advice to her former self, she may not end up where she is, today.
I proposed an alternative solution. What if one was radically themselves? What if they did what they wanted to do, followed their own purpose not that of someone else? Wouldn’t they end up where they are supposed to be?
In short, I believe the answer is yes.
In a conversation I had with my mentor, she commented that for those living an exploratory lifestyle, "No matter where you end up, it will be by choice.”
And that’s where I think I find my sticking point. To be yourself, is to be intensely curious, discovering who you are and the people and lifestyle that fit that.
Fear interrupts that search. The belief that things won’t work out — that you will end up on the side of the road with nothing bubble up to the surface. You’re left hopeless, going into a job you hate to maintain a lifestyle you don’t want.
What it means to be oneself — that’s difficult to piece apart. But for me, all it means is choosing to define my purpose and choosing a life that best embodies it.
This discussion reminds of me of Hunter S. Thompson’s letter to his friend. On suggesting how to choose a life path, Hunter states the proper criteria for the search:
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES.
Being yourself often isn’t prestigious, but I think it helps us remember what we truly are here to do. And it helps us live a life that isn’t predicated one expectation but instead based on an individual’s goal — and that goal, I think, often revolves around helping humanity advance to a better place.