We are not here to fit in. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange. James Hollis in What Matters Most.
Feeling alive came natural as a kid—a time when we live a life of learning, adventure and imagination as we explore and master our worlds. We venture out bravely, don’t know the rules, adapt as we go, and have fun living out our fantasies of being courageous heroes and heroines who do good for others. Childhood may be our last time of authenticity for a long time—maybe forever.
Somewhere along the way conformity and compliance become the rules–about the time we go to school, I imagine. Peers, parents and teachers mold us to be clones of one another. From then on most of us sacrifice our courage and authenticity as we try to fit in to be accepted by others in order to “succeed.”
When we begin our young adult lives—perhaps smart but unwise, inexperienced and full of ourselves–we think ourselves free and in charge. But the pressures to conform continue, often below the surface of our awareness. The unwritten rules of corporations and institutions replace our parents as the paternalistic voices in our lives and demand obedience and submission as the price of a job. Their message is, “Don’t think, do what we tell you and don’t rock the boat.”
And we don’t.
Gradually we often suffer a loss of nerve and live small lives. We seek to please others and forget to please ourselves. We feel obligated to be responsible for others but are not responsible for ourselves. One by one we make decisions that diminish us. Choice by choice we lose ourselves and sleepwalk through life. We cannot answer the questions, “Why am I here? What do I want?”
Around the middle of our lives, something might cause us to wake up. We realize that our lives are half over and that we only have one life and it is running out of time fast. We give ourselves permission and ask some important questions: Who am I apart from my roles? What do I want for my life? What does life ask of me? Can I live a larger life? We ask, “Do my choices enlarge me or make me smaller?” James Hollis wrote, “…we all have to grow up, become wholly responsible for our lives, relinquish the search for the good parent in others and stop whining.”
When we take responsibility for our lives, we can, if we want, live the larger, more authentic lives that were always meant for us.