“Don’t compromise yourself – you’re all you have” – John Grisham,
When we go out for dinner, my mom will choose an item off the menu to order. But then, much to the waiters dismay, she’ll want to customize the shit out of it. I’m talking about substituting so many ingredients that she essentially creates her own dish. In the same way, we as humans, are pretty adamant on customizing the individual traits and beliefs that are a part of us. We seem to want to mold an entire new person out of ourselves. What we’re failing to realize is that we are human beings, not pad thai.
People, myself included, spend a great deal of time fantasizing about traits that we wished we had. We are constantly thinking about how we ought to be more outgoing, funnier, smarter, more personable, more serious, less serious, less awkward…the list goes on. But if we really stop and ask ourselves why we want these changes, an important issue becomes apparent. More often than not we are inclined to make these self-changes not to better ourselves, but rather to better fit-in to society.
We voluntarily work to rid ourselves of our individuality, and seek to adopt “better” traits, in an attempt to appease societal norms. For instance, I try to overcome my introverted-ness by pushing myself to engage in social situations. Why? Because the people around me look at being introverted as a drawback. This desire for societal conformity is not only relevant in regards to altering our personality traits, but also holds true with respect to the greater life decisions we make.
So many of us pivot our entire lives to make sure that we are not raising any societal eyebrows. It’s almost as if we put society’s level of satisfaction with us above our level of satisfaction with our own lives. This is why we find people throwing a quarter-million dollars and four years of their lives down the toilet, even though they firmly believe that college isn’t for them. It is also why we find people at their corporate desks thinking about how good a .22 bullet ricocheting through their skull would feel, yet sticking to their prestigious jobs.
These are often the same individuals who thump their chests and proclaim, “I don’t give a fuck what people think of me.” Yet they are forcing themselves to change their inclinations and beliefs in order uphold what society has deemed proper. To be honest, a lot of the time, I’m a part of said ‘individuals.’ I often try to fictitiously convince myself that I have a mind of my own, and that society can’t touch this nonconformist free-thinker! But I digress.
Forcing ourselves to change, or fit-in, in the hopes of a smoother journey in life is futile. It actually does the opposite, by making us feel stifled, inauthentic, and eventually unhappy. Conforming to things that don’t sit well with us leads to nothing but a plummet in confidence and a loss of interest in life. Forced change is never sustainable anyway. Even if I manage to hush my introverted-ness for a few months, sooner or later I’ll go back to it. We all inevitably normalize to our innate selves.
I’ve found that the solution to our corrosive desire to modify ourselves and fit-in lies not in actively avoiding societal norms – it doesn’t involve being a self-proclaimed maverick. The correct approach lies simply in embracing our individuality. We need to learn to be less conscious of ourselves, and more comfortable in our own skins. We should start by identifying our strengths and weaknesses, and finding things which are in line with them. Too many of us are instead doing things that we feel will provide us maximum societal approval, and then trying to make our strengths and weaknesses fit the bill.
Don’t force yourself to love travelling just because the rest of the world seems to enjoy it. Don’t force yourself to be the class clown just because it will win you popularity. Don’t force yourself to want to work at Goldman Sachs just because it’s where all of your friends aspire to be. If coding sucks you life-less, don’t become a software engineer! This sounds like a no-brainer, yet it seems that many of us are so desperate to fit in that we let go of what makes us, well, us.
We should avoid forcing ourselves to change; it should and will happen on its own accord. Don’t make the mistake of sacrificing your individuality for it.