“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yup. There are a lot of quotes about being yourself. You can find more here or listen to this song about it here, but one thing that is annoying about all these quotes is that they are from adults. Adults have a terrible habit of saying things they assume to be simple and clear and easy to do, and then perplexed when teenagers find them to be quite difficult. Let's take being yourself as an example.
How does one actually go about doing that at fourteen? Twenty-four? Hell, how does one do it at forty? We are assuming that the person who is being told to be them self, has any idea of who they are meant to be. As if there is some manual that allows us to pick and choose attributes of self to try-on and become:
Yeah, I want to be smart and cool. I want people to like me, but also be in awe of me cuz I'm super book smart, but down to earth. I want to be thought of as a musician although I am not very good, and oh yeah, I want to be thought of as young and cool and hip. And being considered good looking always seems to work for people. But that is all pretty superficial stuff. How about being considered kind, a good dad, teacher and friend? I want to be considered progressive and political, perhaps a bit edgy?
When I was a teenager, being cool was a pretty big deal, although none of us had any idea what that meant. We looked at each other like a maze of mirrors. All of us trying to fit in and "be ourselves" at the same time. What a pile of......
What's my point you might ask? Where is my claim? Is there a thesis? I guess my point is: it is hard to be yourself, because people, like most things in life, are always changing. The people who are adaptable and can go with the flow and change and not stick to any established ideas of who they are meant to be, are in essence, the most themselves.
It is important to experiment with who you think you are. Even, if you are confident enough not to worry too much what other people think! Yeah, I know that is hard at 14, 24 and 40, but what I am saying is that focusing on yourself is the first step. But remember that even if you can get comfortable in your own skin, it is still important to experiment and not get too comfortable.
I like having long hair. I like having a beard. This look is what I expect to see staring back at me from the mirror. It feels like me. It has taken me nearly three years to create this look. My kids are comfortable with it. It gives me the right amount of confidence to perhaps affect a swagger. But is it me?
Is it possible that we can build an identity through our appearance? Our hair? Our clothes? Our taste in music? I suppose we are made up of all these things, but what I am arguing is that if these "selves" we are constantly creating become too comfortable, and dare I say stagnate, then are we truly ourselves, or some already out of date model that we are too afraid to change?
So this is why I am choosing to shave my head for Hair for Hope. Sure, I want to raise awareness for Cancer and bring some excitement to our school event, but really I need to shake things up a bit in my own mind. I need someone new to stare back at me from the mirror. I need to be reminded that the self I am trying to be is ready for a new chapter, and while the shaving of hair is a simple superficial act, it is one of symbolic significance nonetheless.
I remember that even the smallest acts were difficult at fourteen. A new pair of shoes, a new haircut, a sticker by some band no one had heard of could send tsunami size waves through the cool kid herds, but trust me- I was the scrawny geeky fourteen year old who would not be defined. I have been trying to be myself all my life. I am not sure if there is one self to be, but my advice to you....
Try things out. Go with your gut. Make changes even if they feel uncomfortable. You will learn to know yourself through these changes. Take risks. See who sticks by you as you grow. These are your true friends. Don't be enslaved by trends. And when an adult tells you to "be yourself," tell them you are working on it.
And so much respect to the thirty other brave kids and adults who are shaving their heads and taking the risk to truly find themselves.