moving against the herd

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As a self-defined individualist and free spirit, it’s sometimes a struggle to live amongst the crowd. When you molded and embraced a very unique way of thinking and living for yourself, it’s expected that people will push up against you, or even criticize or judge you. One observation I have made in society is how much people dislike/resist change or difference. And you can boil this down all the way into a micro level when someone rolls their eyes or tosses a disdainful comment your way just because you’re different from them.

On a personal level, it’s always been a difficult act for me to stay true to myself, all the while allowing myself to stay open to alternative perspectives. I strive to keep an open mind, but I have moments when I feel as if I am “too open” and almost allow someone to take complete control of my decisions. Letting them tell me what to do.

I’ve been reading a book by Brene Brown, and one of the many things that resonated with me in it is this: “When we start polling people, it’s often because we don’t trust our own knowing. It feels too shaky and too uncertain,” and “…rather than respecting a strong internal instinct, we become fearful and look for assurances from others.” I fall guilty to this behavior, and I’m calling myself out. I ask people’s opinion all the time on my decisions. But then I have two conflicting parts of me: one that is assertive, empowered, and seeking to actualize her full potential and forever stay true to who she is, and the other that is still seeking acceptance and approval of others, while doubting her judgment and instinct on things.

It’s been ingrained in me to avoid conflict, and I’m becoming more aware of how embedded it is in me through my choices and behaviors. Instead of asking my inner self, I ask others. And when I ask others, I agree and even question my judgment. I avoid conflict. Yet by avoiding conflict and rejection, and agreeing with everything, I’m giving control of my life decisions to others. I’m contradicting my true, inner desire, which is to be me in everything I do. It’s no wonder then why it’s been so hard for me to hear my inner voice and instincts.

In my last post, I talked about the pressure of staying practical in all things, which has caused me to gradually lose touch with my “dreamer” or creative side. I think this is a perfect example of this struggle. I’ve been having pressure all around me to be practical about everything and anything, but at the same time, I feel my inner, empowered self resisting, saying, “But Anna, I don’t want to be practical all of the time. I want to engage in my dreams, my imagination, my hopes and aspirations. Do we have to give that up just to stay practical? Can’t we hold both? Please, don’t forget your dreams.”

People keep telling me what to do, and although I understand their logic, I also want to do things that are right for me. I want to trust my instincts. I want to stay true to my nature.

So this is my area of growth: learning to be okay with moving against the herd, and with rejecting what people tell me when I don’t feel right about it, no matter how “logical” it sounds. Because as much as we forget this, logic does not equate with truth. Rather, logic is a means of understanding truth. And there are almost always other ways of perceiving. And although something may be right for one person, that does not mean it is right for everyone. Sometimes it helps to get others’ perspectives, but we have to be aware that we don’t have to do it another person’s way if it doesn’t feel right for us. It’s okay to disagree and go your own way. Part of life is exploring and discovering what is specifically right for you.

And sometimes trusting our instincts and following our hearts means risking rejection or being unconventional. But then we have to ask ourselves in those moments: am I going to let myself, or everyone else take control of my life? Do I want to actualize my true inner self, or become like the herd? Who do I want to be?

The choice is always up to us.

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the struggle for the dreamer

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As a dreamer existing in a “real-based” world, I find myself constantly up against the struggle of my imagination with reality. I’ve gone from completely rejecting reality to reside inside my mind, only to find that it increased my misery and disappointment… to now, where I am super practical about making decisions. Lately I’ve been feeling pressure from people around me to be “practical” all of the time, and because their advice made logical sense, I’ve been taking it. But at the same time, I’ve also been feeling depressed and unhappy.

I thought of a conversation I had with professor/mentor. I had been telling him about one of my possible dreams/goals, and how my brother was discouraging me from it due to practical, “realistic” reasons. It’s a difficult route, and you might not be able to handle it. You have to make sure you are really ready for it. You’ll be further in debt if you do. People have a really hard time doing it, so you have to be aware of that. As I told my professor my doubts, I said to him, “My brother makes good points. He wants me to be practical about this. He wants me to make grounded decisions.”

Then my professor stared at me for a few seconds, and replied with a straight face, “Is he making you grounded, or is he cutting off your wings?

Boom. My mind was effectively blown at that.

I realized then how right my professor was. After drowning in the misery and impracticality of basking solely in my imagination when I was younger, I have been working to live successfully in reality as a dreamer. But as a result, I am venturing too far on the other extreme, and losing touch with my dreams and idealism. I’m cutting off my wings.

As important as it is for us to be practical and realistic, I would argue that it is just as important (maybe even slightly more) to dream, imagine and create. I think of people like Steve Jobs or John Lennon, or of my own personal role models, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Maya Angelou–people who never held themselves back from their dreams, especially in the wake of antagonistic pressures, and instead pressed forward with their grand visions. They painted a new reality, they expressed their true, inner selves with courage, even if practicality at the time may have judged them as “odd” or “overly idealistic.”

So this is the struggle of the dreamer. Our spirit and soul must grapple with the dealings of earthly reality, as it sits inside our physical bodies. We have to pay the bills, chug along to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. And many times our high expectations do not match reality.

Yet we must also not give up our dreams. Because consider what I have been chewing on the past few weeks: what if our dreaming tendencies are our nature? What if that is a part of who we are? What if by being wired this way, we were given a particular, valuable gift of creating and re-shifting the world as we know it? Practical souls are just as valuable, as they maintain structures and keep stability. That is their role. But that does not mean all of us have to run around being like them… if anything, we need the balance in this world. We need the dreamers to ask questions, to think outside the box, to re-imagine a better place and tenaciously shake the status quo, just as we need the practicals.

And that is why I’ve been feeling depressed and unhappy… because I’ve been denying my true nature. I’ve been stifling my voice, my inner expression. I was made to be a dreamer. Yes, we certainly need to address the realistic concerns of living in this world. Perhaps it is a matter of being able to hold both reality and our dreams.

But let’s not reduce dreaming as childish and “impractical” as people are apt to do. Dreaming feeds imagination, inspiration, hope, love, light. We may encounter many obstacles in the midst of pushing our dreams forward; but then we should ask ourselves, are our dreams worth fighting for?

I’d like to think that the good things in life are worth fighting for. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

So to my fellow dreamers: let us always stay true to our nature. Let us dream on.

the stand

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Area of self-growth: standing up for myself.

Self-awareness is a constant choice, and I am a strong believer that there will never be a point in time when we have ourselves “completely and thoroughly” figured out. In actuality, those I see who think they do, end up blinding themselves to the deeper crevices of their inner selves. Sometimes I feel the temptation of falling into that trap. But then I encounter another aspect of myself and I realize, yet again, I have so much to explore. So much growth to do.

After talking to my friend on the phone today, I realized something about myself: although I am a strong advocate for others and passionate about speaking out for those who are oppressed or do not have a voice, I am horrible at being my own advocate. The voice that comes to my head is, “Well, I don’t want to step on any toes. I don’t want to make them angry and make waves. I’ll just go along with what they want. I’ll focus on making them happy.”

After coming to this realization, I began laughing, because I teach and encourage others all the time about the pure necessity of advocating for yourself, but then, I cannot do the same for others. I think of Maya Angelou, and how she asserted that we must not only give our teachings to others, but actually live those very teachings out in our lives. And the truth of the matter is, there’s still a part of me that seeks approval from others, that worries about what other people are going to think, and pressures me to just “go along” with whatever they want. After getting this puzzle piece, it became a lot clearer to me why I was feeling frustrated and resentful of others. Or why lately I’ve gotten triggered by people in my life… the common denominator being that despite their good intentions, they keep pushing me to do something I do not want to do, or think “their” way, even when I verbalize what I feel is right for me.

I’ve become angry, frustrated, annoyed by these people, because I’ve spent my whole life going along with what people wanted and doing what they told me to do, at the expense of myself and what I desired. I get pissed off, because I know what’s right for me, and instead of hearing me, people keep forcing me to “see it their way” because “it’s the right way”… forgetting that the “right way” is a relative concept. I just want to be and do me, and I’ve let other people push me around to benefit themselves. I think of Sara Bareillies’ song lyrics: “All my life, I’ve tried to make everybody happy while I just hurt and hide, waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.

Which brings me here to present time. Although I’ve learned to rally and support a healthier way of being for others, I have not yet let it soak in my own life. Instead, I am brewing in my anger and frustration of all those years of people not hearing or listening to me, and pushing me around. But I need to start advocating for myself. I need to start speaking out for my wants and needs, because that is my responsibility, and mine alone. No one will tell me it’s my turn, and if anything, many people will take any opportunity to control you. So, I need to start owning myself.

I can’t make my life about people-pleasing anymore. I’m so tired of the anger and resentment I constantly feel, and I see now that the only way to change that is to start pushing up against people, step on a few toes–if that means standing up for myself and owning my identity. I’m the one who has to live with the consequences of my choices. So instead of letting other people call the shots without any consequence on their end, I need to start taking the wheel of my life. And not be afraid to say fuck you to those who try to take it from me.

As Sara Bareillies sings, “Who cares if you disagree? You are not me. Who made you king of anything? You dare tell me who to be? Who died and made you king of anything?