What kind of image do you want to show off?

Does it even feel like you?

I fit the title of “non-conforming adult”. Being a nonconformist is a choice, as I go into greater detail in my article “Non-conformity: Why it might be the right avenue for you” but it’s also a part of us to some degree. See, I remember watching the movie the Devil Wears Prada with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, and really loving it for many reasons. But what captured my attention was the protagonist’s try-hard desperation to fit in to a pair of high heels (metaphorically speaking) and not feeling herself play the role exceptionally. It didn’t resonate and it didn’t serve her well in the end. What I find influential in the encompassing moral of the story is simply that: you can’t force yourself to play the part you weren’t meant to play – unless it’s intentional. But for the majority of us, we constantly try to fit ourselves in.

You – a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It just doesn’t end up working. 

The challenge of fitting in

I’ll be talking about more movies here. Alex and I recently watched Sean Penn’s Into the Wild a couple nights ago, which is based off the biographical novel of Christopher McCandless, twenty-three year old college graduate who decides to detach himself from society. He chases after freedom, and chooses to escape from civilization by living out in the Alaskan wilderness for a few months. The plan turns awry, as we see in the movie. I won’t spoil it for you. 

Despite my opposing views with this young adventurer, I understand his frustration. Society is not built to accommodate the varying individuals that make up the population. We’re made up and influenced by a wide set of conditions: environmental, social, political, spiritual, cultural, familial and individual. We’re predisposed with our own range of talents and unique qualities that set us apart from others, which should be recognized and appreciated. And it’s not. 

So then it becomes a challenge and an exhausting task. 

But there’s nothing wrong with society

Or culture or families or yourself. Although most people turn and point fingers at the concept of society and call it out for how most of us perceive it to be: unaccepting, shallow, rejecting. And then we all scatter around like mice, trying to submit ourselves to pre-affirmed standards. But, in truth, there’s nothing wrong with society. All it is is a social net for us to connect through. It’s a culture, a community for people to come together through. Those who made it wrong was our grandparents’ grandparents. And the whole chain reaction before those grandparents that created the stigma of conformity in society.

Appealing to others doesn’t work in the end

It’s just like the pressure reaches no finish. As a sixteen-year-old, I was constantly bombarded by the onset of questions about college. Which college have you selected? What major are you pursuing? What’s your plan after you graduate??

My response to that was always a forged smile and a confidently rehearsed answer. I pretended to be someone I knew I wasn’t – even if it was just through my words. I made my personal plans for the future sound so lavish and adult that people would nod their heads in appreciation. She’s done well. 

But I strove to appeal to them. The public – whoever that may be. Friends, family, strangers. I had to make myself look acceptable to society, to stay on everyone’s good side, to get the necessary validation that says I am good, I’ve done well. But the internal tug-of-war that took place inside myself told me who I wanted to appear as was inaccurate, and who I really felt like embodying was the person that I should display. No need to put up decorations to garnish and hide what really lay inside.

Because I didn’t have the desire to go to college after high school – did that make me unintelligent? The fear was all too great. I’ve always put success first. A good, stable image that people will respect. But if I didn’t go to college, I’d probably not get the respect I felt I deserved. Boy, those days of peer-pressure was a distressing time. 

Both my parents didn’t go through the labor of getting a degree. They were artists. And for some reason artists are looked down by society. Degenerates, low-rankers. The successful artists get their contemporary artworks hung in notable museum galleries. The successful musicians get themselves signed off to an eminent record label company. 

Oftentimes, we as people are seen as something that should be rather than can be. And it affects our own self-image as well. We begin to switch our mentality, without realizing it, to see ourselves through the eyes of others. It’s a strategic way of coping with a world so obsessed with appearing successful. 

It’s all about your core values

And how you want to see yourself. Yes, I’m talking about you now. I imagine you’ve been struggling with self-image in a fickle society that values presentation above all else. Oh, let me add false presentation. The world doesn’t stand true to what it openly expresses. In other words, there is internal contradiction to the image people present.

So what do I mean by core value? Whatever you value that actually feels right to you. And for the most part, we don’t have just one core value, but many. My own, for example, is freedom. Also exploration – deep inside the human mind and out in the world. Open communication. Vulnerability – exposing my raw self and seeing others.

Prioritize, now.

So, how do I plan to get on in the world without a degree? Without some form of verification that I’ve completed college and can now face the real-world with the assurance of opportunities? My answer is never simple. I usually have to admit now that I really just don’t know what lies ahead of me. And then I have to take in a few deep breaths and reassure myself that this answer is acceptable. It’s okay. 

What did I have to do in order to liberate myself from the fear of judgement in order to get on with my life of core values? I had to prioritize. It goes like this:

  • Being free matters more to me than spending all my time and money on college
  • Sacrificing a diploma in order to spend these early years exploring life is more worth it
  • Class education vs. experiential education: which is more me?
  • My answer is experiential education.
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Joe Richter

Wow. I love the way you put things. I fully resonate with your writings! Very cool blog. I am following!

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