You’re not the person that you were, nor are you the person that you will be. People change. Everyone. Change is as certain as death or taxes and it has the capacity to be just as painful. That doesn’t mean we should be adverse to changing, as spooky as the prospect may be. Change can bring exciting new opportunities, wider world views, and helps add another layer to the vibrant tapestry of who you are. However, not all change is good change. Change is something that has to be navigated with no small degree of honesty and self awareness. Are you changing into a fuller version of yourself or are you changing out of fear? Are you growing or are you conforming?
When I first went off to college, I felt a lot of pressure to change in order to blend in. I also felt a lot of internal pressure to defend and cling to parts of my identity at the time, sometimes to the point of counter-productivity. Defending my taste in music or shoving obscure facts about my hometown into every conversation was an emotional defense mechanism that I employed often. So was keeping silent about things that I disagreed with deep down. With a little more time under my belt (and having hopefully grown a bit), I did some reflecting on why that was and I think I’ve come to a few conclusions that might help other people navigate the social pressures of being in a new environment. In order to grow, you have to monitor a fine balance of thoughtfulness, honesty (with yourself and others), and courage.
Fight or Flight
The chips are down. Everyone around you is trashing a movie that they absolutely hated, you loved it. You’re not comfortable with these people, in fact you barely know them and it is important that you make a good impression. You’ve got two options, and depending on the kind of person you are, you’re more likely to pick one or the other. Fight or flight. If you tend to lean toward the latter, you may pretend to hate the movie in order to blend in. The exchange? You lied and your soul died just a little bit. No big deal, really, until the conversation isn’t about a movie. It’s about a mutual friend, your politics, or your religious beliefs. If you’re a fighter, things are just as bad. You’ll let impassioned words spew out of your voice-box in defense of the film, completely deaf to any genuinely valid points as to why the movie may not have been all that great. In the process of over-zealously defending the film, you killed the conversation and subsequently the possibility to grow (odds are you didn’t make any friends either). The problem with fight or flight is that they’re both reactionary. They’re gut responses to what your subconscious reads as a dangerous situation and as a result they’re thoughtless. The answer lies in Jiminy Cricket, sitting on your shoulder.
Jiminy Cricket on Your Shoulder
Jiminy Cricket is such a resonate character to so many people because our little, green friend represents something universal: that voice in our head. It’s that voice that often tells us what we should be doing and we can be quick to try and squash it under-toe when it says something that dis-aligns with our gut impulses. There are definitely times where silencing that voice is the right thing to do… but generally speaking it is a helpful compass that helps us navigate the complex world of social interaction that we inhabit. So why bring him up? Well, for starters, he’ll be the first one to tell you as to whether you’re conforming or growing. If you’re conforming, you’re probably saying and doing things that dis-align with your actual beliefs and opinions. That sets off the alarm bells and Jiminy starts shouting. We’ve all had the experience before and if you do it enough, our little green friend gets discouraged and starts shouting quieter and quieter until he’s inaudible. That’s a dangerous place to live in. You might ask, ‘Well, if I can’t hear him then I’m not torn. So what’s the big deal?’ The big deal is that you’ve sold your spirit over to whoever happens to be the biggest personality in the room and you no longer have any claim to yourself as an independent person. That’s no way to live. Jiminy is still there, though, always shouting. If you stop and take the time to listen, you’ll hear him and he’ll get louder again over time. Listening to the voice in your head from time to time is an act of thoughtfulness and honesty. Others will appreciate knowing a genuine form of YOU. You’re much more interesting than a ‘yes man’. There will be plenty of times where you’ll encounter something different or contrary to what you think at any given moment and the voice in your head may say, ‘Alright this doesn’t feel so bad.’ That’s growth, because it’s honest. You have to listen for that message as much as you listen for the alarm bells. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting too entrenched in your current mindset and that kills the opportunity to grow. It’s about walking the line.
Walking The Line
Listening to those internal alarm bells helps keep people from conforming. It is a form of being honest with ourselves. Of course, being too resistant to change or opposition of thought is a danger as well. It keeps you from growing, which is the goal. It’s possible to run the risk of so staunchly defending something that it becomes a larger part of your identity than you intended. It is about walking the thin line between the two. I tended to feel like I had to justify things. I brought up my love of country music often, for example. When I moved to NYC, country music was far from popular with my peers. When music was being discussed, I felt a need to rise up and champion the genre. Eventually, I became so wrapped up in representing my underrepresented taste in music that I slowly stopped listening to other genres. I boxed myself in and reduced my ability to grow. It took me a minute before I could tame that primal part of myself that was signalling some sort of false danger because I stuck out. It was only then that I was able to branch out and fully embrace the fantastic things that the new city around me had to offer. If you’re a natural fighter like I am, you have to slow down an actively listen. If you’re not listening, then there is no chance that you can grow. Before you can listen you have to relax a bit and remember that not everything is a battle to be won. Once I brushed that chip off my shoulder, the world was a brighter place.
It’s About Courage
When it comes down to it, it’s about staying true to you. When you encounter something new let it in and react genuinely. That takes courage. When one of your interests feels underrepresented, trust that they have value and don’t need you to be their champion. That takes courage. People appreciate those who say what they actually think. They also appreciate moments when they can share their interests with you and more often than not, they’ll want to know what you’re interested in as well. That’s how we grow and it takes courage and honesty. It takes a degree of thoughtfulness, not guttural fight or flight responses.
If you agree or have also experienced some of what I’ve talked about today, feel free to drop a comment. If you enjoyed the post, please like the post or share it around. Thanks for stopping by!