We derive security from routine, not deviation. A forced detour from your daily commute pisses you off not just because you take a few minutes longer to get home but because you have to re-orient yourself. Thank evolution for that: you have yet to learn where the tigers are hiding around that particular passage.
The small ones you step on are the worst.
Whenever I face times of transformation I feel like I’m not quite as stably on my feet as I usually am. If you feel this, relax. It’ll pass within a few days. You just turned yourself into a work in progress – which, by definiton, lacks stability and harmony – and will feel a bit wobbly until that insecure moment passes.
Which is okay because when it does you’ll wind up stronger than before.
Incidentally, these weak moments may be visible to people around you, and these people may get the perfectly wrong impression because they don’t know what the fuck got into you. I know that, during these moments, I tend to come across as a cranky, self-centered, hair-trigger-tempered jerk, seeing only my own woes and ignoring that the world around me doesn’t stop spinning till I’m done. (Go ahead, ask my wife and kids.) Pretty much like a caterpillar. Unlike that bug, though, I have no way to cocoon away until I’m done transforming.
And just now it dawned on me why the Very Hungry Caterpillar punches his way through an entire buffet (and a few bottles of Scotch they can’t show in a kids’ book). He’s not just bingeing; he’s out of his tiny creeper-mind because he knows he’s heading for some radical, scary-ass changes. Mr Carle, congratulations on the best-hidden metaphor ever.
Anyway, what I’m saying is: Please don’t make everyone around you pay for your level-ups.
Why do I have to do that? I don’t need to change, I just want to be me.
For starters, let’s draw a line: Nobody expects you to throw your current self into the fire and be reborn anew. While there must be sites catering to the special needs of phoenixes, this ain’t one of them.
In fact, this is the last thing we’re gonna try to do because life just doesn’t roll that way. Remember what I said in the very first post? We’ll become awesome by enjoying being who we are. It’ll reflect on how we act, on the vibes we send out, and on how we’re received by others.
“But where Hollywood really got it wrong for me was in teaching me that winning and succeeding socially in high school meant overcoming whoever or whatever I was. The problem wasn’t that awkward nerds weren’t represented in movies and TV shows; the problem was that those nerds excelled when they stopped being nerds and suddenly became cool.” (DOB)
“By far the biggest excuse I’ve heard (and used) to avoid escaping a shithole is “I don’t want to change who I am,” or the variation, “I don’t want to become something I’m not.” I’m not going to pussyfoot around with this — that’s a dumb, bullshit reason built totally by a general fear of change. If you don’t get over that right now, you might as well resign yourself to your current life forever.” (John Cheese)
What does “being who you are” mean? How about this: Being yourself doesn’t mean resigning to what you (or worse, others) think you irrevocably are at this point. Quite the opposite! It means staying the hell on your toes. I could throw a dozen clichés at you now on how standing still equals falling behind, or just reach for this hell of a quote:
“My advice to anyone seeking life balance is to go ahead and give up. Really, there is no such thing a balance in a dynamic system, and life? It’s pretty dynamic.
Balance is for things that don’t move, like buildings (…) When you walk, stand, move, or do anything at all, you will be in a constant state of imbalance, and the way to keep from falling is always to make continual small adjustments. The same is true in your life. As you do shit (move), you will need to adjust. As events unfold (more motion), you will need to adjust.
Adjusting is the way to negotiate the imbalance of life.”
To sum this up, even just holding on to The Way Things Are takes a ton of effort.
Your mind, your body – your whole life, in short – is not like a puzzle you finish and set aside. It’s more like one of those marble tracks you keep rearranging and expanding whenever you get bored with the status quo. And even if you like it just the way it is, it still requires permanent maintenance because the blocks keep drifting apart, scattering the rolling stock all over the place.
Yup. Mental self-negligence causes you to literally lose your marbles.
I know. There is a diehard faction of people who will now yell “But I have to always stay true to myself!”
Let’s not be taken in by stupid motivational posters, mm’kay?
Every other office wall adornment, social profile or pop song is tainted by the tired cliché that is “just be yourself”. It’s ingrained into our lives pretty much from the start, and that’s why we don’t usually question it but accept it as a given.
Guess what I’m going to say next? That’s right: To hell with this.
” ‘If she doesn’t like us for who we are, then fuck her. She doesn’t deserve to be around us.’
Right then is when I realized that phrase is a coward’s way out of changing himself for the better. Don’t get me wrong, 1) I’ve used it myself in the heat of anger, and 2) To a very, VERY tiny degree, it’s correct. You don’t want to completely change who you are to please other people. If they want you to change so much that you become someone else, they’re probably not the right person for you. HOWEVER (…) if you’re so inconsiderate of others that you’re 100% unwilling to control or filter what comes out of you (…) you’re the asshole here. It’s a hard lesson to remember because the excuse itself is rooted in ego, and ego is a hard motherfucker to tweak.”
What if being yourself, as in “passive acceptance”, is part of the problem? Were you formed of clay by your parents, baked and set out to harden? Are you a fucking garden gnome?
“Yeah, and I fully accept myself. Fuck you.”
Being yourself means knowing yourself and, based on that, deciding in which ways you want to change. YOU define who you want to be. YOU get to pick which aspects of yourself you develop and which you neglect and thus – up to a point, mind you – YOU SHAPE WHO YOU ARE. If you want to be a villain, be one. If you want to be a saint, work towards that end. Neither the Mahatma nor Scarface were washed into their offices. They fought hard to get them.
And John has more to say about that:
“Staying true to yourself” does not mean “never changing anything about yourself.” It means allowing your mind to grow and improve, like it was designed to do. (…) If “being yourself” ever comes with a cost, such as living in poverty or fear or misery, it’s time to re-examine and redefine what actually makes you who you are.” (same source)
Not in the market for fame? The same holds true for everything in between these extremes. You and me just want to live normal lives with no claim for immortal glory (right?), and the price is the same: work. So stop making excuses by pointing out limits that may or may not be where you think they are. Did the caterpillar expect to “come out” as a “pretty butterfly” right from the start? (Let’s ignore the other subcontext of that for the moment.) I don’t think it knew exactly what was coming.
Neither you nor me can now today what we’ll be in the end. All I know is that the creepy loser I was in my youth is several worlds away from me now, and no, I had no idea then how far I’d eventually leave my Inner Aspie behind.
Have you ever walked right into a screen or glass door? They tend to pop up right into our faces, or is it just me? Anyway, our “limits” are like that: We’ll know for sure where they are only once we hit them, hardly ever in advance. And yes, we’ll likely get a bloody nose.
Because that’s the way life rolls.
And no, snowflake, you’re still not special for fighting this battle.
In my experience there are a lot of people who seem afraid of some aspect(s) of themselves, and try very hard to conceal these from other people. When growing up, I was certainly one of them – and still am in some ways. Gradually I became more comfortable with who I am however, even with the more unusual aspects of myself, and while this was partly due to simply getting used to my own desires/behavior/ideas over time, it was in large part because I came to realize that EVERYone else is fighting the same battle. (“Ass_master3000” on PWOT)
Another reason to be wary of the whole “just be yourself” thing is that not all of you is on your side… there’s a traitor on your Inner Team. We already talked about how your mind will try to sabotage you, making the misery of having nothing seem more desirable than the effort of getting something – anything.
One of your psyche’s loyal strong-arms is your limbic system. You know, the section controlling both your memory and your emotions. A powerful combination ensuring that, when we do choose that dodgy, overgrown road, first comes fear.
Hope you’re not wearing sandals today.
The unconscious doesn’t care about happiness, or sadness, or gifts, or bullets. It has one single goal, protect the ego, protect status quo. Do not change and you will not die.
(The Last Psychiatrist)
After a few tentative steps, we’ll consider turning our tails and doubling back to our well-trodden path because we know our way around that one so damn well.
Secondly, at this point, memories will get distorted because emotion screws with them – What am I doing here? What was I thinking? Was it really that bad?
And usually, if we’re cruelly honest with ourselves, the answer is Hell yes it fucking was.
After college I found that the job market hadn’t exactly rolled out a red carpet for me, so I took up lecturing jobs for state-financed training projects just to get started somehow. This meant explaining boring stuff to large groups of people whose only motivation was avoiding a sanction – they’d been told by their welfare officers to attend “or else”. Not only had my audience not brought along any fucks worth giving, but overall conditions were appalling, adding to their bubbling anger. Some were drunkards, some on H (he’d later pour hot coffee over the project manager) and some spoke hardly any German at all. A precious few actually cared about the program.
And I was one inch from pissing myself with fear. The first two days I was so scared I never rose from my chair, lecturing from behind what passed for a desk, ready to dive behind the barricade if they started flinging stuff at me.
It was a lovely spring and I yearned to be outside, refusing to acknowledge that those sunny days on the dole were over. I carried the contract that was my own escape from welfare in my pocket for several days before signing and returning it.
You know, so I could walk out the door any damn moment if I felt it became too much to take.
It helped to remind myself that the worst thing management could do was ask me not to come back the next day.
“No matter what it is that you’re afraid of, odds are it won’t kill you. Even if it goes horribly wrong. If you keep that in mind, you’ll be able to cope with almost everything. Also, remember your previous experiences. None of them killed you, did they!” (Nullzerozero on PWOT)
And after a few days, I’d sat out the rough patch and was happily coasting along.
After that, the thing just ran itself.
Well, it was still a bitch of a job but I had gained control.
These projects formed me. I only understood that later when I was able to say, “I earned the respect of forty angry people in one room who were openly grinding axes when I first walked in.” While one of my colleagues ended up in hospital with a nervous breakdown and others came within an inch of joining her (think about it. Forty pissed-off Berliners in an undersized, half-wrecked auditorium? Lion-tamers get off easier, they’re not forced back in after the first mauling) I came out with the spurs I had earned myself. I could have torn up the contract and returned to my tree in the park like every part of my body demanded. I’d have breathed several deep sighs of relief.
But for all I know, I might still be there today, years later, wondering how I’d managed to piss my life away.
What I’m saying here is: Adversity builds character. Or, less abstractly: Change is scary, painful and generally sucks ass but it’s fucking worth it.
So, change. And be ready to change again. (thanks, Principal Skinner).
“Cowboy the fuck up. My whole life I’ve had a deep neurosis about the uncomfortable, and I can tell you it has had a hugely negative effect on my general well being (…) Don’t be a me. If there’s something you can do which will possibly make your life better, do it, even if there’s a chance it won’t accomplish the desired goal. At least you won’t be left wondering what if.” (SteelFan714 on PWOT)
Remember this little song?
Once there was this girl who
Wouldn’t go and change with the girls in the change room, and when
They finally made her…
Hmmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm…
Don’t wait till they make you.
You know how they say wizards always show up just in time? Special thanks go to John and David who, in the slightly demonic way they have, kept posting stuff that helped me tremendously just the moment I got stuck.