the art of being original ( + the best thing you’ve got going)
“There’s an African proverb: ‘When death finds you, may it find you alive.’ Alive means living your own damn life, not the life that your parents wanted, or the life some cultural group or political party wanted, but the life that your own soul wants to live. That’s the way to evaluate whether you are an authentic person or not.”
— Michael Meade
“The best thing you’ve got going for you,” she told me, “is your originality.”
She said, “It’s like there are two sides to you. There’s the perverse, bold, rebellious side. That’s the side that gets pissed off. That’s the side that questions everything.
“And then there’s the conventional side, that wants to hunker down and keep safe, fit in. It gets scared and uneasy about what your other side compels you to do.”
She said, “It won’t be your conventional side that makes you successful.”
She said, “You can’t live a conventional life because you’re no good at it and it doesn’t make you whole.”
It’s like we have two lives inside us: the life we’re supposed to live, and the life of the soul.
We learn to navigate the world around us, the expectations of others, we accommodate and compromise until something happens and it all breaks down. We hit a crisis point.
The life of the soul sends up a flare: hey, I’m dying here, pay attention.
The old strategies don’t work anymore. The compromises you made between the outer life and the inner life start to feel like a deal with the devil.
And we have ourselves an identity crisis.
At the time, it feels like hell. There’s loss involved: something was taken from you. Or maybe you’re forced to let it go. Or maybe it never belonged to you in the first place and you finally have to accept that.
The life of the soul demands these acts of truth.
We talk so much about being authentic; we talk less about what that actually means. Just be yourself, we say – but if it was that easy, we wouldn’t have to say it, and we wouldn’t find authenticity so remarkable that we’re constantly remarking on it.
To be original is to go against everything we learned in childhood. We were punished when we stepped outside the lines, and if our parents didn’t do it, we did it to each other. We beat each other into the right kind of manhood. We shamed each other into proper girlhood.
We learned to be unique and special so long as we’re like everybody else.
That urge to be safe – from the shaming, the beating – is so strong we’ll sell our souls for it. But when we do that, what’s left? Things keep breaking down. Life becomes a series of crisis points. We get expert at ways to numb out.
The only thing we have, in the end, is our originality. We need to honor it.
The rest is a sham.