I’ve spent the majority of my life measuring my self-worth by the standards of others. I’ve gauged what I invest my time on based on how I think others will approve. It’s a sad way to live, but one that is easy to adopt. Since I’ve become aware of it I’ve made a distinction between two ideas: individuality and individualism, and at first they appear similar, but with a little bit of work we can tweak them out and find some major differences.
Individualism is an ideology that is generally egotistical in that the individual is of a higher order than the group as a whole. And in some instances, or in theory, this is a really cool idea, because it supports societies that are not as state controlled, but in systems like the United States, where capitalism and consumerism run rampant, it has the potential to create an arms race between neighbors. This is that classic competition that we pride ourselves so much on here in the US. I am “Your Name Here,” and I am a “Your Career Title Here.” It is the driving factor behind working for material objects in order to help us standout from our neighbors. It is self-serving.
Individuality on the other hand is not concerned with society, economies, and political influences. Of course, if an individual finds that they are truly concerned with those things, then that is not to say they will not pursue them. Individuality is concerned with the self, and how we identify ourselves. Ultimately, we’re different from one another, and you have the potential to unlock an authenticity that is completely unique to you, and only you.
Mass interconnection complicates the matter further though, because today we are faced with massive amounts of information from a really young age. The result being ideas that infiltrate and sculpt us into something we don’t have a choice in. We are socialized to accept these truths before we have the capacity to question or even discover our own truths. Digital technology teaches us ques and styles that are popular, and they form schemas that dictate the way we view ourselves, and communicate with the world around us.
My struggle began when I first started grade school. I was different. I had red hair, and I wore socks that went up to my knees. I got picked on sometimes, and that totally influenced my thoughts and actions. I learned that being myself was unsafe, and that majority groups would single me out for being weird. I let that fear dictate my actions for a long time, and I suppressed who I really was and what I wanted because I didn’t want to be a loner or be made fun of.
I let that stigma follow me and I formed really bad habits in the process. Most of those habits were rooted in the arms race idea of individualism in that, instead of laying low and trying to blend in, I strove to find ways that would set me apart in the eyes of others. My actions were like parking a new car in the driveway to show my neighbors how significant I was, and my lifestyle was the white picket fence that I presented to the world in order to validate my existence.
Eventually enough was enough, and I walked away from my career, and slowly started to deconstruct my life out of desperation. The people and the things began to vanish, and I delved straight into my biggest fears and found that it wasn’t all that bad. I was still there, but I got to face life on my terms. I measure my self-worth based on my being content in life and with myself, and I don’t have shame about the people I like or the activities I do.
If this was your one big shot on the planet, wouldn’t you at least ask yourself what the main attractions you wanted to see were? Have you ever gone to… like a fair or amusement park with somebody, and just followed them around to all the attractions that they wanted to see? Aside from being a parent, it doesn’t sound very fun! And letting life be directed by the expectations of others is very similar to that. We can drive this car anywhere we want to, or we can let some judgmental asshole (likely ourselves) sit in the back and micromanage based on what they think we are supposed to do, rather than what we really want to do.
I’m done gauging my success with the standards of others or the expectations of society. If I can redefine myself, and I can redefine individuality and individualism, then why can’t I redefine great and be content with my successes and gauge my accomplishments in life based on my own hopes and dreams?