I was in middle school when I first noticed that all the high school kids in my neighborhood looked the same.
They all had long hair, parted in the middle. Their hip-hugger bell-bottom jeans, covered in embroidered peace symbols and patches, were so long they frayed at the bottom.
Their radical, “anti,” different clothes were so alike it became a uniform.
Think of hippies, flappers, goths, and rockers. Part of the work of teenage-hood is to pull away from our parents, which we do by being as different as possible – liking what they don’t like and mocking the things they do.
It’s why each decade has its own style, music, causes, and lingo.
And why they often repeat themselves several generations later.
While they appear radical, teens follow all the cultural rules and norms of their peers in order to “fit in” – different from their parents but remarkably similar to each other.
They only think they’re being different.
The interesting (and harder!) work comes later – defining who we are apart from everyone else; being willing to risk being ridiculed for the reward of finding our true self.
“But I don’t care what anyone thinks.”
Congratulations, you are halfway there.
Feel any energy when you make that statement?
That take-that-in-your-face-I’ll-show-you defiance that feels like independence?
If so, you are still defining yourself in response to someone else.
Admit it, you really do care what others think. And that’s okay!
When you truly and maturely embrace your authenticity, when you calmly speak your truth, you care deeply about what others think, but their opinions are no longer relevant.
Once you find what brings you joy and allows you to contribute joy to others, the opinions of others no longer requires any of your energy.
It almost feels like apathy.
Their opinions lose their power and pull. They are not a part of you anymore – good or bad – they’re just separate.
You can listen to them without feeling anything – anger, pain, or fear. You don’t cringe from their judgement, you don’t squelch your own thoughts for fear of disappointing them, you don’t fiercely determine you’ll defy their expectations and prove your worth.
When you allow others to define you, you feel suffocated.
When you define yourself in response to how others have defined you, you feel defiant.
When you define yourself, you smile and exhale. You feel “right.”
Care deeply about what others think, just don’t care so much what they think about you personally.
Unpack the parts of yourself you allowed others to ridicule and judge; the interests, talents, and skills you’ve kept hidden away for years because someone once made you feel wrong.
That’s where the magic is.
That’s where you’ll discover your passion and find joy.
That’s where you’ll find fulfillment.
And that’s the gift you must share with the world.