I wish I’d learned this lesson sooner in my life. Oh, I know there are a few people who could read that sentence and fall over laughing. I’m not known as a shrinking violet. I think I can safely say that I was reasonably young when I first broke out of the
expected” mold and tried living my own life — but if I’m honest I have to admit that I relapsed a few times. Maybe worse than that, I let myself fawn after a few examples of really good men. Idolizing a mentor is an easy thing to do; if you’re fortunate enough in life to have found one, that is. Eventually I got smart and realized I sort of needed to be myself, simply because everyone else was taken.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it
living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped
by dogma – which is living with the results
of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise
of other’s opinions drown out your own inner
voice. And most important, have the courage
to follow your heart and intuition. They
somehow already know what you truly
want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
– Steve Jobs
Everyone isn’t as independent or contrary as I am. That’s probably a good thing. But that does not mean that I have not heard the roar of other people’s opinions concerning what I should or shouldn’t be doing.
I had my own experience with toxic religion. Not so much that the articles of faith were so toxic but certainly the attitudes towards other members was. The closer and more intimate a group is in one’s life the harder it is to listen to other voices — or even to hear the sounds of your own voice!
One life lesson that was harder than most was learning that being as different as you can get away with being is really not enough. Not until you stop thinking about what others are thinking about you can you really hear the voices in your own head, and see clearly the signs for the pathway you are meant to follow.
I’m a guy who was always pushing the boundaries. Oh, not the legal boundaries. And not those boundaries of moral behavior. I never particularly felt inclined to illegal activities. But I surely pushed the boundaries of accepted ideas, and how freely you express yourself (in a closed group). I curtailed personal interests because they were outside the norm but it didn’t take all that long to realize how uncomfortable I was living someone else’s life. And letting go was one of the most liberating and sad experiences of my life — only because it meant I had to leave behind a lot of people that I thought I really liked. It turns out that from a dozens and hundreds of people I knew about one handful really inquired about our well-being.
What that taught me took longer to digest than it did to experience. Suddenly there was a silence in our life where before there had been noise. My brain knew not to expect anyone to inquire after us after we made our departure — I had seen others take the same action as I had taken and nature abhors a vacuum — their disappearance left no emptiness the group just went on about it’s business and they simply were no more. Experiencing what can only be described as an emptiness as the person who left the group came as a bit of a shock. It was to be expected; but the actual sensations were quite numbing. “How can this be? Did I mean nothing? Given what they say, how is it possible for them to behave in this way?”
It’s never easy to go against the flow — not when you are woodworking, not when you are kayaking upstream, not when you are arguing with a mate — there are reasons that nature and God have fashioned the world in such a way that “being different” is not approved, is not sanctioned, is not blessed. Society works best when people know their place and stay in it.
All that happened… Oh my…. a long, LONG while ago.
I haven’t thought much about i over the years, once I got over the initial shock — and that took some time let me tell you — but once I got over the emotions of feeling what I felt I have never looked back. For who I was, I did what I had to. For all I can tell the results were the best thing I could have hoped for. Not easy, but best. The thing is that first time that I had to mentally put-my-foot-down and say “I’m not going to live that way” it was tough. But every subsequent challenge was a lot easier. Scary things like starting a business or moving didn’t scare me at all. Changes no longer scared me. My life, our life, was going to be different and that was all that mattered, and continued to matter.
I periodically think about the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. There aren’t a lot of opportunities like the ones they saw: to have a vision, start up a company in your garage and see that vision expand into a world-changing empire. There are certain things that have a limited time to happen — when the world is primed, the circumstances ripe and the people in place. Let me explain…
When I went to grade school in the 50’s most of the teachers were beyond middle age. The reason for that had something to do with the number of young men lost in the World War, but it also had to do with the timing of universal education. A lot of teachers were hired at nearly the same time. Those who applied for jobs then were of similar age — new additions to the workforce. And as a result they pretty much aged at the same rate. Oh, there was attrition: some decided teaching wasn’t their cup of tea. But times were hard and people didn’t move around in jobs as they do today. Net result? Lots of teachers hired around the same time meant that lots of teachers retired near the same time and by the time our daughter went to school the average age of teachers was a lot lower again. Like Gates & Jobs computers our society has big cycles and little cycles. Some opportunities happen once. Some happen once in a lifetime. Some happen once a decade or once a year. It helps if you understand where you stand in the grand round of life.
When it comes to living your own life that means that sometimes your goals have to be tempered with reality. There are perennially a lot of people who want to be artists. The facts of life are that society can only support a limited number of artists. From available income the dollars that can and are given over to supporting art is a relatively small part of any family’s budget. So, artists — if they are going to make it as real artists — have to be willing to either adjust their art to fit the social climate or look for alternatives to whatever their initial goal might have been.
In pursuit of that life your heart and intuition want you to live you sometimes find that timing, or location, or circumstance force you to adjust your goals. I’m sure Bill Gates didn’t think in the 1970’s that his Microsoft environment would look as it does today. And Steve Jobs may have had a different idea than Gates but in the 1970’s I’m sure he wasn’t dreaming of Smartphones. The world they invented involved floppy disks and prompts and no-multitasking! It all evolved from there. Living your own life means adjusting to the life around you. None of us lives in a vacuum. We have to compete in the world as a whole. And one thing about the world…. it’s always changing.
Follow your heart. Be prepared for hard times — the sheer act of braking away from the expectations others put on you will be hard enough. Hhaving done that there will be no end to the challenges you face. If you have followed your heart once you will have learned that you can do it. And that’s a pretty great start for a new life!