In our society today, there are so many reasons to act a certain way, maintain image, and preserve social standing. These different factors, or influences can be thought of like a compass guiding a naval vessel through the starry night. They help us find bearing in a world that sometimes seems to lack a coastline, a never ending ocean of uncertainty. Most of us are drifting around with no clue about which way to go, like stranded shipwrecked survivors, hoping to see some vessel underway, moving with purpose. When we do see someone that appears know where they are going, often times, we latch on. We tag along, go for a ride, follow a path that seems to give us purpose and meaning. Sometimes we love the new direction and adopt it as our own and other times we do not, jumping back into the vast waters looking for a new bearing to follow. These various “ships” are ways of life and most people live by more than one. It can get confusing, when these ideologies conflict with each other and even more convoluted when we add fads and trends to the GPS. The needle of our compass jumps and waivers as we struggle to navigate between all the competing influences. We program our GPS to align with one such fad, but then we bump into a friend who travels with a different ship and so we frantically attempt to recalibrate our direction in the hopes of being welcomed aboard. We change our heading so often that, essentially, we go no where, at least no where fast. We find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day and straining our eyes, scanning the horizon for some sign that we are not, after all, lost.
I remember this feeling, this ambiguous embodiment of preferences and values. I was much younger then, but I still know the feeling well. I felt out of place, almost always, like something was missing, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Its sort of like when you stand up from the couch, walk into the kitchen and can’t remember what you intended to grab. What was I getting? A snack? No, I have food on the table. A cup? I have a glass next to my food. Did I have a task to complete? Shit, no clue. This is what I felt like before I found my direction. It wasn’t something I was aware of all the time, it wasn’t that obvious, but in those moments where life seemed to take a breath and I was left alone with my thoughts, this subtle uncertainty crept into my awareness. I existed like this for most of my life, until I discovered a way to navigate that wouldn’t be affected by passing ships. My “True North.”
The ships that I am referring to can be anything that influence us. Religion is a huge one, along with politics and personal heritage, but there are many others. On a simpler level, we have fads, trends, and social norms, perpetuated by individuals, or groups that gain favor and sway opinions. Two of the first of these forces that we all experience are the guidance of our parents and the pressure of our peers, in school. Right there, is a prime example of what I am trying to highlight with my obscure metaphors. We grow up being taught to live one way and are often pulled off course in an attempt to assimilate with the direction of the crowd. This conflict, this jarring friction between how you think you should live and how you want to live, only gets stronger as we grow up. The stakes get amplified and multiplied as we discover more about life, ourselves and the many gray areas between right and wrong. The engine powering this constant influx of favor and preference seems to come from our inherent need for acceptance and purpose. We seek validation for the path we have chosen and favor from those we admire. This may sound odd, but this motivation seems to be at the core of us all.
This is, in no way, a bad thing. We need direction and a compass to guide us. I noticed, however, that I was trying to navigate my life by more than one compass. In fact, I had many and they all pointed in different directions. Im not sure how many of you have done land navigation, but consistency is crucial when trying to reach a specific location. If you take readings from one compass that wasn’t calibrated properly, when you reach your destination and find that something is wrong, you can correct the mistake. So, for example, if you travel one thousand meters, but realize that your compass is off the mark my 1 degree, then you can simply compensate by correcting course by 2 degrees in the other direction. After one thousand more meters, you should be back on course. Say your destination was only 1k meters away. Your desired location would be 100 meters opposite of your faulty compass. Simple fix. If you use a different compass every time you check your bearing, there is no way to know how far off course you are and so you can’t fix your problem. Think of your life as being like this, but the distance is a few million meters to your desired location. Even the smallest of mistakes can throw you off course. Compounded by vast distances, these minor slips result in being off the mark by incomprehensible gaps. To avoid this, we need one bearing that we know we can trust. One influence that is always right, no matter what is going on around us. I call it, “True North.” It is my guiding light, my absolute, it is me.
This may be alarming to hear for some. I just said that my true bearing in life, my absolute for right and wrong and my guide to happiness, lies within myself and not God or some other deity. That is true, and the same goes for anyone else, no matter how religious they are. As I have said before, we are all different and thus have different values and morals. For some, religion is life and so their true north is guided by their God. They choose a life of worship because that is what they perceive as being the right way, not simply because some book says so. They find peace following scripture and studying the teachings of their religious mentors. Their wants and needs align with the values of their religion and so they follow that course. It is no different for any other walk of life. You must think about the person you want to be and ask yourself if your choices are something you can be proud of. Do you respect and love who you see in the mirror? Would you proudly own the decisions you make everyday, no matter who is watching? That is a true test. Much of the frustration, anxiety and sadness I see in the world is because people are not being true to themselves. I used to do the same, but why? When we get old, when our bodies have faded, our taste for parties and excitement has been replaced with quiet conversation and quality family time, what will be important? Most of the people we thought were friends will be long gone. Flashy items such as cars and clothes will hold no appeal or value and instead, we will cherish the relationships we have managed to hold onto, above all. The most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. If you are not happy with the person in the mirror, how can you possibly bring happiness to anyone else?
Before I understood this truth, my character was fragmented. In high school, I started to realize that I was two different people. Not in a huge way and neither was particularly bad, but there were subtleties. I grew up in a house where the parents couldn’t agree on anything except that their kids would be “good.” As a young man, Ill never be able to thank my parents enough, but when I was a kid, their strict rules were a source of profound frustration. My mother worked in the public defenders office and my father was a police officer, so naturally I wanted to brake all the rules. Not really, but the point is, they were strict and very smart. I quickly learned that out-right defiance was always a losing battle, but passive aggressive subversion seemed to do the trick. I got incredibly good a lying and manipulation and always figured out a way to achieve my desired outcome by a mixture of those skills and misdirection. I did what most young kids do, go out and cause a ruckus, smoke weed, get in fights and go to parties. I kept that side of myself hidden as best I could. My parents probably knew more than I thought, but they knew much less than they realized. As I grew older, though, the person my family knew and the person my friends knew both developed and solidified as pieces of who I was. My close friends saw the real me, the whole me, and my family got an edited version. The skills and habits I developed by doing this overflowed into many aspects of my life. I wasn’t malicious, and my parents weren’t locking me in my room, but I started to realize that I would lie out of reflex. I was shielding so much of myself, from my family that I found it impossible to be myself around them. I always had to be on guard and careful not to trip over any of the lies I had sewn around myself. Not only was it exhausting, but terribly unfair for my family, who loved me and did everything they could for me. There is much more to why I acted this way, but as I matured, I started to realize how ridiculous this was. When everything goes wrong and life flips you on your head, who is there for you? Usually, its only family! I let my stubbornness come between myself and the most important people in my life. The immature little kid I used to be made a mess and when I became a man, I decided to clean it up.
This piece isn’t really about family, I simply used that as an example. I used tobacco and other vices that made me feel ashamed of my choices. It wasn’t that I was hiding those choices from my parents as much as hiding from the fact that they made me face them. When I got caught, I felt bad about the choices I made, not because they punished me, but because I saw their disapproval and disappointment. Call me a sap, but its important to me that I make my parents proud. This may seem ironic, considering some of my choices, but the type of man I want to be is one that has a strong family connection. I want to be able to hug my mother and give her a kiss. I want to be able to look my father in the eye while we drink a beer and shoot the shit. Having habits that inhibit this, means I hold those things above my connection to my family. If I can’t be myself around my family, it means Im veering off course from my “True North.” This doesn’t mean that I base my whole life around what my family wants, but it does mean that their approval and opinion of me is important. I still have habits that they don’t particularly agree with, but now I show them all of me and Im not afraid to do so. I have accepted certain things as part of who I am and part of who I want to be. If you find yourself hiding parts of yourself from certain people, its because you personally don’t approve of those choices and they make you face them. This is when you must analyze your anxiety, or whatever negative emotion gives reason for you to put on a mask and really ask yourself if thats who you want to be; does that choice align with your True North?
Following your heart and finding your own true north is not always easy. You do have to sit down and think about where you want to end up in life and what type of person you want to be when you get there. When you figure it out, it should be accompanied by a map that you created, enabling the journey. Knowing you are on a course that will bring you to fulfillment, instead of regret, will bring you happiness and confidence all by itself. Then, the next step is to follow your map and stay true to who you are and where you are going. This will mean that many people you meet along the way will not get along with you. This is alright, though. You see, the way I used to be, I could get along with just about anyone. It took effort, changing masks and adjusting my behavior. It was always small stuff, like wearing a certain type of clothing that you think others will like. Then, when you get around a different group of friends, they ridicule you for the same piece of clothing. Trying to hold up false pretenses is exhausting and serves no purpose. Modifying yourself so you can have superficial friends for a bit longer? Eventually, regardless of who is pretending, they wouldn’t be in my life anyways, so why waste the effort? Besides, when you try to adapt to fit in, you will end up feeling stupid if someone calls you out or challenges you authenticity. A good example of this is when young men pretend to be tough guys. Works great and gets attention until they meet a real tough guy and get their ass handed to them, exposing the pathetic coward they really are. Not all of us are fighters, thats fine. Honestly, fighting is often brutish and stupid, accomplishing nothing. There is no shame in abstaining from physical combat when you are more of an intellectual warrior and anyone who attempts to put you down for it is not worth having around in the first place. All I mean is that if you love a dorky sweatshirt, wear it with pride. Your friends may give you a hard time, but they will love you all the more for being real with them.
There is an interesting phenomenon that I have noticed since I have decided to stay absolutely true to me. First of all, my life has progressed more in the last year than in any other period of time in my life. Im not distracted by what others will think and my actions are not governed by goals set by anyone, but me. My life is my own. I am responsible for where it ends up and I am capable of getting it there. If I am worried about everyone else, Ill never be able to achieve the things that make me happy and bring me peace, thus, bringing back that little feeling of something missing. I don’t want to be lost in my own little kitchen, I want to know exactly where Im going, or at least have faith in my bearing. This is only possible when I use my one and only compass. Oddly enough, this trait is recognizable in others. I find it ironic that I spent so much of my life trying to be accepted, or rather not hated, but now that I care nothing for appeasing others, I form deep friendships almost instantly. Its not that people always agree with all of you, its that they respect your genuine nature. Life isn’t about making everyone love you. Its about finding individuals that effortlessly resonate with your frequency. They may be polar opposites, but that is part of what makes life beautiful. This understanding also makes it easier to let go of all the different ships dragging us along.
After posting “WARNING,” I received a lot of very profound messages, for which I am grateful. If I tried to express what that support means to me, I would fall horribly short and so I just ask you to take my word for it. Another common message I received was a question of how I am able to put that much of myself out there. Much of the courage comes from what I have outlined above, but there is one more element that I haven’t mentioned. Changing your life for the better is difficult and scary, but ultimately so worth the effort, that eventually, as you fully grasp the benefits, there is no other option that makes sense. This doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions, though. We can control the course of our life because we an control ourselves; our thoughts, our words and our actions define our future. When you begin down this new course, there will be those in your life that do not agree with the change. They either won’t understand the objective, or will simply hate that you are trying. You will face negativity because your action will highlight their inaction. The fact that you are moving your life forward will force people to evaluate their own place in the world. Some will genuinely be happy for you and even be inspired to take the ride with you, but many will smile in your face and secretly hope you fail; people want you to do well in life, but not better than them. Oddly, they are also unwilling to do anything about their situation and in attempt to feel better about their life choices, will undermine your effort and be unsupportive. Ill never understand this contempt and bitterness, when they could just as easily change with you. I think it comes down to facing personal demons and closing the “Rift,” but that is another post all together.
These negative people will be to your progress like a cavity is to your tooth, eating away at your positive mental attitude. Your attitude is everything in life, especially when taking a chance and turning over a new leaf. When I was beginning this transition, I realized that I needed to find a way to distance myself from these people. Just like we can recognize the beautiful glow of genuine positivity, we can also see this ugly aura enveloping an individual. They will show you who they are, take notice and walk the other way. Sometimes, though, we are bound to them through dependency. This shackle can be many things and vary in strength. For example, some of us make and keep friends, not because of their quality, but because of how they make us feel about ourselves. Sometimes its validation and others its social standing. Both of these are an emotional dependency that can be easily broken or replaced by a more positive, internal source. You simply need to understand that they don’t define your being and that this kind of relationship is using someone more as jewelry than as a friend. Finding your “True North” will help quench this need from inside your own self and free you from the worry of their disapproval, or reaction to your new direction.
A more tangible shackle, but not necessarily stronger, is financial. A great example of this is between parents and children. Im not trying to get kids everywhere to rebel, but I know too many young people living their lives for their parents, afraid to do what makes them happy. Lets just ignore the fact that most 20-somethings are being supported by their parents and focus on the fact that these kids are being forced into majors based on what the parents want. Firstly, I have no sympathy for these “kids.” Get a work ethic, get damn job and support yourself. A funny thing happens when you pay for all your own stuff, no one can hold money over your head and make you jump for it. Set up your own hoops and jump through them in the direction of what excites you. Another common situation of dependency is in marriage. I get messages from stay at home spouses all the time, expressing sadness deriving from a failed relationship and helplessness because they essentially get an allowance and feel they do not have the power to leave. Personally, I believe that a relationship has to be between two equals, and although this is very possible in this scenario, that dynamic lends itself to so many opportunities for the working spouse to mistreat the dependent. It takes a person of great integrity and honor to resist temptation when trusted with such power over another, especially over a long period of time. There is nothing wrong with this type of relationship, but if anything goes wrong, one is left at the mercy of the other.
The bottom line is that when we rely on someone else for our wellbeing, or self esteem, they have power over us, limiting our ability to be ourselves. It may make your life easier and you may even like the set up you have, but eventually, you start adjusting your behavior to appease their will. Maybe, you use manipulation to get what you want from them and you feel as though you have the upper hand. A good test for this is imagining if you could survive if you walked away. Can you still pay rent? I know plenty of people dependent on others for their lively hood and as much as they try and pretend its no big deal, I can see it slowly ripping at the seams of their soul. If they can make you do something, or act in a way that you wouldn’t do if you didn’t need their help, then you are essentially in a little prison. If they respect you, they will never hold it over your head for leverage, because some such relationships are mutually beneficial, but the type of people that like this power are too often willing to hold it over your head to show you how much you need them. Finding your True North and working for the things you need so that you can support yourself is your path to freedom.
This is why I am free to open up to complete strangers, like I do, without the worry of social fallout or financial backlash. I guide my life based on my values and absolutes. I do not worry about rubbing people the wrong way, or pleasing friends so they will stick around. I answer to no one but myself and so I am only accountable to me. This allows me the freedom to be exactly who I want to be. The only time this doesn’t apply is if you have a regular job or when you are in love. Ideally, you find a job that you love, but you still act professional even if you would rather work in your undies. Its a a small compromise that doesn’t affect the direction of your north seeking arrow. (I work in my undies, but I work for myself:) Love is nothing, if not compromise, but you do it because you can’t imagine life without your partner. Being in love is like having a glowing compass that shows you the way no matter how dark the sky or rough the waters, so we gladly make that choice. Friendships can be love too and so there are compromises there as well, but they all come back to being part of who you wish to be. If you can’t act as yourself, no matter who is watching, then something is wrong.
Even if all of that makes sense, there will still be doubt in your mind about your True North and whether you are going the right direction. Don’t feel bad, though, this is a dilemma that we all face. To get over this and start living your life, you must remember that we all have a different idea of paradise and so there is no correct way. We are simply part of a whole, and conversely, we are the whole. This will be hard to grasp, but we are the universe like a wave is the ocean, infinitely different, but holding no more value than the next. Alan Watts explains this as being able to trust your own mind. He says, “think of yourself as a cloud. Have you ever seen a cloud shaped incorrectly?” We are a cloud in the sky, or a wave in an ocean of many. Your true happiness is subjective to who you are and so no one else can really tell you how to find it. That is why you must chase what excites you and makes you happy. This is also why no one can look at you and tell you that you are wrong, because it really doesn’t matter what they think. As long as you keep chasing your True North, someday you will reach your own personal paradise, whatever it is.
I learned some time ago that regrets are the biggest, harshest pain we can ever experience. When we get older, the “what if’s” will keep us awake at night and tear at our psyche. Even failures don’t hurt as badly. When athletes give everything they possibly can and still lose, they don’t have to wonder how the game would have ended up. Its easier to accept and move on with a definitive result. If you ask your love on a date and they reject your invitation, you wont have to think about the beautiful life you could have had, because you will know; they didn’t want any. This is why its so important to go after what makes you feel alive, in spite of small odds, because there will never be a reason good enough to suffer, or compromise for the duration of a life. We are all beautiful and we are all brilliant in our own right. Not everyone will be able, or willing, to see it, but for those who can, you owe it to them and yourself to shine as brightly as possible, even if you like gray and black. The world needs more of you, not a muted version, but an intense full view. Step away from the shadows and the influences that dim your light and soften your song. Fear not, the negativity of those unwilling to bear their bright colors. The world deserves to see your brilliance, so have the courage to be you, uninhibited, unrestricted, complete and proud. Be intensely “YOU,” for this is the only way to truly be alive!