“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
– Steve Jobs
Back in 1967, the year SMiLE was supposed to have been released, Thomas Harris (MD!) published his eventual best-selling ‘self-help’ book, I’m Ok, You’re Ok. This post is not about this book.
However, because the book’s title has passed into pop culture and the public’sobsession with ‘self-help’ ideology, I thought I’d reference it. Just as with Sigmund Freud’s works, Harris’ book, at the very least, does lay out some interesting ideas and terminology for others to build on. On the other hand, ‘Dr.’ Harris also endorsed electro-shock therapy as a treatment for some conditions, so I would approach his writings with a long ‘grounded’ pole.
Now here at the Wooly Yarn, when I’m not waxing neurotic about ‘intrasomatic conspiracies‘, I’m delving into matters of developmental psychology or theories of personality. Specifically, I’m interested in extolling the virtues of ideas that relate to our ‘feeling good’ about ourselves, especially in the face of our perception of others, or even ourselves. Similarly, developmental psychologists, such as Lawrence Kohlberg, Jean Piaget, and Erik Erikson (no relation to Sony Ericsson) involved themselves with studying how our systems of personality develop over the course of our’s life’s journey. These constructs lay at the very foundation of all manners of ‘self-help’ theories. They focus on our varying psychological states stemming from emotionally charged perceptions of ourselves, the others and our environment. So basically, what I’m saying here is that if you are concerned by how you look at yourself or how you feel about yourself, then you have come to the right place … especially if you also have issues with ‘them other folks’.
Today’s sermon deals with what I’d like to call the ‘OK Factor’. How easy is it for you to say ‘it’s OK’ in relation to your thoughts? Do you ever wonder if you’re thought processes are ‘normal’? Do you look in the mirror and wonder what others see, as opposed to smiling at what you see?
OK now honestly, in attempting to answer any of these questions did you just second guess yourself or feel an unsettling twinge in your psyche (Superego or Id)? Did you experience a sudden compulsion to go see what’s in the fridge? I know I have in the past … and it’s OK, because I still do.
Still, as a society we seem to be obsessed with ‘normalcy’, or at least our perception of it. I would argue that what most people might perceive as ‘normal’ is most definitely ‘abnormal’. In fact, defining normalcy in the general sense is sort of impossible as it varies across cultures and context. Moreover, should extraterrestrials ever really land here on Earth there will be more than a few lexicographers who will be sent scrambling … on both planets.
Often, what causes problems is that each of us, in own our ways, aspires to greatness … or at least we admire or envy it in others, sometimes even loathing it. Given the choice between ‘normal’ and ‘greatness’, which would you choose? Of course, some who have actually achieved greatness may have also ended up desperately trying to live ‘normal’ lives. Ironically, those who are plainly and homogeneously normal tend to think along the same lines.
So here’s the rub: we can’t all be normal. This is precisely where many ‘self-help’ experts go wrong in their suggestions. You see, ‘one size does not fit all’. The more we fail to account for individual differences, the more off target we become. If we are to assume that we are all unique creatures, and indeed relish this as a virtue, then we owe it to ourselves to celebrate our differences and cater to our individual needs.
At the practical level, the above may be easier said than done, but it is true. Rather than writing self-help books which attempt to twist readers around their concepts, such books should be written with the aim of twisting their concepts around the readers. The concept of ‘it worked for me, so it will work for you’ is tantamount to the adage ‘if it was good enough for my grandfather, then it’s good enough for me.” I may be wrong but I doubt that for most people this notion is true; a tattered pair of 100-year old ‘long johns’ with the crotch worn out won’t exactly cut mustard in the dead of winter today. Know what I mean? I think you do.
So what is the ‘OK Factor’? It certainly has nothing to do with talent, popularity, sex or pop appeal ala’ the ‘X’ Factor … well not exactly. The X Factor refers to an undefinable ‘something’ that makes for star quality. In other words, it’s what people see in you. I say screw that. What you should first be interested in is what you see in yourself. After all, before you can show something to others, you must first possess it. If you want people to see you as confident and witty, then you need to develop confidence and a fair amount of wit. It’s a bit like ‘show and tell’ back in kindergarten; you’ve got to actually have something in your hands to show your classmates and talk about. Ownership is everything. And, in this context, there’s nothing sadder than the kid who forgets to bring something to show and tell, and is forced to sit on the sidelines while everyone else gets to shine.
A good place to start taking ownership of your life is the bathroom mirror. It doesn’t have to be a full length mirror. It can be a bathroom cabinet mirror. What’s important is for you to be able to look at yourself straight in the face, just as someone else might. You need to look into your own eyes and smile. You need to look at yourself in a way that only you can look at yourself and will yourself to smile at what you see. You may hate your expression, your hairstyle or your nose … but look further into your eyes … the windows of the soul … and smile at the thought that you are no better or worse than anyone else … and accept yourself as you are.
I suggest you do this task in the bathroom mirror to remind yourself that … your shit smells just as bad as everyone else’s. If you need reinforcement of this idea, turn around and take a quick look at the toilet and be imaginative. If that thought makes you smile, then you are on the right track. Making yourself laugh is the next step in learning how to make yourself feel good. Clothes are optional.
What I don’t want you to do is to be fake. What you are looking for in your eyes is honesty, which is not something that is always immediately forthcoming – neither from others nor from within. You see, we tend to repress the truth. We make justifications and sometimes we just outright lie. God knows why we have this predisposition to avoiding the truth, but we do. So we need to look past the indignation we feel for our deficiencies and just claim what is without a fact the ultimate truth: that we are what we are and that it’s OK.
Pretend someone is taking a photo of you – but don’t make it ‘cheesy’! I’m not suggesting some dramatic Richard Simmons like exclamation of affirmation such as “I’m ok. That’s right, I’m OK. I AM A-O-K, gosh almighty, hot damn!”. Don’t point at yourself with wide eyes and an ear to ear goofy grin that causes you to go running for some Chapstick to soothe the cracks forming in the corners of your mouth. In fact, you don’t have to say anything at all. Just smile knowingly at yourself. The point here is to be believable and sincere, even if for only a few seconds. I didn’t say it was easy, but it’s a token task that must be done in order for you to move on to bigger and grander things.
Just look in the mirror, smile and know that you are no better or worse than anyone else. If you think otherwise it’s only because (a) someone told you so or (b) you are so wrapped up in what others think, that you have hardly anytime to think about yourself, and in worse cases, think for yourself. So forget these ideas. Drop that baggage and take a load off.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many people carve out their daily existence in the form or shadow of the expectations others have of them … or those they think they ought to live up to in order to placate these ‘significant’ others. Doing so makes it difficult to ever really find satisfaction in their own efforts, since satisfaction to them only comes via gaining the approval of others.
It should come as a surprise therefore that the more reliant you are on the approval of others, the less ‘OK’ you will feel about yourself, in any respect. When you are anxious and ambivalent about your own presence, your performance in all things will suffer, especially public performance.
For example, some of the hats I wear at times are public speaker and musician. Now, at some point, I just had to accept that when I go out to perform, not everyone is going to like me … but that hopefully there are those out there who might. It’s those smiling faces I seek out and play to. It’s those good souls which motivate me to just be myself and to realize that it’s OK for me to be me. The haters? Well they can just go to hell … though that’s really not my call.
Anyway, I believe that as artists, bloggers or otherwise, one of the worst things we can do is self-censor our thoughts and content, especially for fear of those who most likely will care less about us no matter what we do or say. And that’s an important fact to remember: not as many people as you imagine really give a damn about you.
In light of this it should behoove you to put you and your sensitivities first. I’ve always said that if I can laugh at my own jokes, most likely others will laugh, as well. Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Nevertheless, in the worst case scenario, even if people laugh at me as I laugh at my own jokes, it’s fine by me. At least a good time will be had by all. Laughter is infectious. Stuffiness and haughtiness are constipating.
Case in point: your online presence. In my opinion, there’s really no point in establishing an online presence, if you’re only going to worry about whose looking and lurking from behind their monitors. Again, are you a blogger? Well, sacrificing yourself to this fear will invariably stunt your growth as an artist (writer), as well as a person. If you end up hedging your thoughts and ideas to make your posts more ‘suitable’, ‘safe’ or ‘politically correct’, then you are most likely squashing any real substance your writing might otherwise have had. You might as well just post okra recipes.
There’s a reason why people watch MTV’s Jersey Shore more than C-SPAN. There’s a reason why folks prefer R rated movies to those that are PG or NC-17. There’s a reason why more people prefer porn to … the Smurfs (furry fetishism notwithstanding). I’m not saying that you should go out and start offending people, but I am saying to stop holding yourself back, or down, or however it is you like holding yourself. Learn to let go and receive what you are due: your inner sense of worth.
Make of this post what you will, or wait for the e-book. The ideas here are obviously not very well thought out at this stage. But then again … either are yours, especially if you are letting “the noise of others’ opinions” prevent you from smiling at yourself in the bathroom mirror and knowing that you have some intrinsic value in this world.
Lastly, know that irreverence may not always be politically correct, but it does draw a crowd. Oh, and never confuse irreverence with irrelevance. Rise above the vacancy you have locked yourself into and don’t keep enabling your self-imposed inadequacies. We may not all be able to be ‘normal’, but we can certainly be ‘OK’… and that’s a good place to start. If you want to take it further, that’s great. But at the very least, learn to be self-effacing; it will do wonders for your complexion!