“Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking” – Steve Jobs.
Many of us are leading a life that has already been scripted for us.
Intentionally or not, we try to stick to a path that has been laid out for us. This is a life that’s confined by the thoughts of others around us as well as those that came before us. Humans have evolved as social beings; we have a desire to be part of a community, share common values and feel accepted. This is natural.
Psychology defines conformity as:
“…the tendency to align your attitudes, beliefs and behaviours with those around you. It’s a powerful force that can take the form of overt social pressure or subtler unconscious influence.”
We are told repeatedly “just be yourself” and “be unique”. Yet, this biological habit to follow the crowd and abide by the rules continues to persist generation after generation. It gives us comfort in knowing that we share similarities and commonality. And honestly, this isn’t actually that wrong. It’s important to have a real sense of belonging and to have social purpose. It gives us a sense of value. As I’ve said before, surrounding yourself with the right people is crucial to your own happiness.
But you need to draw the line somewhere in order to define who you are and to realise who you want to become, even if it doesn’t align with the person others want you to be.
There is something very deep inside of us that refuses to embrace the very thing that defines who we really are – our individuality. Instead, we try so hard to cling onto a falsified version of ourselves. This is the version we show to the outside world, the presentable you; the version of you that you feel as though people will approve of, the version that fits with the wants and preferences of our environment.
Ironically, we idolise people that have gone against the tide and the status quo to achieve great things. We look up to athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs and celebrities that seem to have done the impossible. A lot of these people were once looked at as “crazy” and are now glorified because of their achievements. Just imagine what these people had to go through to prove the negative voices wrong.
Richard Branson was beaten at school for poor performance. He was (unknowingly) dyslexic and considered “either lazy or stupid”, yet he went on to build a business empire and is now worth well over £3 billion. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, only to go on to become the greatest basketball player that ever lived. Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a news anchor after just seven months – her boss stated that she was “unfit for TV news”. Now her fortune, built with her own show and TV channel, is estimated to be worth over £2 billion.
Our role models aren’t so concerned with what others thought about them, so why are we?
So now I want you to take a moment to think back to a time in which you made a decision, not because of what you wanted to do, but because of what you believed others wanted you to do. Take a moment to think back to a time where you made a choice and you silently considered how others would react to it. Now, reconsider what choice you would have made if their opinions were absent from your decision making process – would it have been the same?
Trust me I get it – we’ve all been there before.
To be honest with you, I didn’t start this blog for a long time because of my silent worry about what other people would say. I was so consumed by what I presumed others would say that it drowned out my own inner voice. The confidence that I showed to the outside world was just a mask that I unknowingly wore. I convinced myself that I had self-confidence, with an assumption of what I thought that meant. Only once my confidence was tested, only once I eventually pushed myself to go against my self-doubts and worries, did I realise that this is what it truly meant to have self-confidence and own your individuality. Since then, I’ve realised that this way of living brings about a continuous series of rewards.
So let me leave you with this:
Learn to become content with who you are and focus on who you want to become. There will always be times when you must do things because you have to, not because you want to. There will always be times when you must sacrifice for the sake of others. But make sure that there are also times where you are doing what you want to do, or becoming who you want to become, for you. Understand that this is not an overnight decision; it’s a process (with no end) that takes time alongside self-growth and experience.
I’m not telling you to be selfish – I’m asking you to become self-aware.
We live in a unique time where we have the ability and resources to materialise our passions. If we’re lucky, with enough diligence and dedication, we can even pursue them full time. So please, do not waste your talent.
You want to start that blog? Do it.
You want to start that YouTube channel? Pick up a camera.
You want that career change? Go after it.
I’ll tell you right now that those who genuinely support you will be right by your side, pushing you forward every step of the way. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work out you have not lost anything. You’ve gained experience, and believe me when I say that that’s exceptionally invaluable.
Remember that you will never have everyone’s approval. So, at the very least, you might as well have your own.