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“You have a unique gift to offer this world. Be true to yourself, be kind to yourself, read and learn about everything that interests you and keep away from people who bring you down. When you treat yourself kindly and respect the uniqueness of those around you, you will be giving this world an amazing gift… YOU!”
― Steve Maraboli
Graduation is nearing and being a high school teacher, the opportunity to watch them grow over the few years I have to spend time with students is an awesome journey to observe. After teaching for more than a decade, I have seen so many wonderful, talented and diamonds-in-the-rough on the-brink-of-catching-their-stride students that I never cease to be inspired. Yes, perhaps it should be the other way around, but I truly am left awe-inspired more times than not by my students – especially the students who have found the courage within themselves to be themselves.
I speak not of the student who always does the most outlandish attention-getting trick, projects their voice simply to gain attention and praise or the student who abides by the expected behavior in order to garner the eyeballs of the teen masses in the appropriate fashion. No, the students who are able to be themselves in a hodgepodge of insecurity that high school by design breeds, are the students who are unique unto themselves. One may be the quiet creative in the class who is humble with their talents, but reveals their magic with each essay, the other may be the bully’s target who refuses to conform, ultimately negating the power the bully wishes to absorb, or perhaps it is the unlikely athletic phenom who over the course of the first three years of high school and hours of dedication finally earned the coveted position their senior year.
Recently, I heard a truism that caught my attention, “The first half of our lives we spend trying to fit in; the second half, we spend trying to stand out.” And I couldn’t help but ponder this paradox. So long as people are able to arrive at the second tier, it is then that they realize the gift of life – the gift of offering what only each of us can offer – our unique talents, that the more fulfilling and rewarding life becomes. The quicker we can break free from the first tier of erroneously believing that we must fit someone else’s definition in order to be deemed a “success” or accepted, the sooner we can find the contentment we initially assumed would occur upon casting our natural proclivities aside. Below are a few examples of why nurturing what is innately yours is the best decision we can ever make.
1. Shine Like a Diamond
“Don’t wish to be normal. Wish to be yourself. To the hilt. Find out what you’re best at, and develop it, and hopscotch your weaknesses. Wish to be great at whatever you are.” ― Lois McMaster Bujold
The difference between shining a pebble and shining a diamond is that no matter how hard you try, a pebble will still be a pebble. However, when a diamond is tended to, cared for and allowed to exhibit itself at its best, it is a magnificent sight to behold. So too are your innate abilities. Fine-tuning the skills, looks and behaviors that you feel you should have, but can only be developed so-so, will only ever reach the pinnacle of a shiny pebble. However, when you tend to what comes naturally to you, the results can be astounding.
2. An Imitation Doesn’t Make History
“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Sure there are a million boy bands that have attempted to be the next Beatles, but guess what, there will always and only be the Beatles that jump started the rock era, and all those that followed, well, frankly who can remember? The point is, we can choose to follow or we can choose to be ourselves. We may not know where the latter decision will lead, but we already know the former path has been forged. Learn from the early trailblazers’ journey, be inspired by them, but then be yourself.
3. Use Your Energy Wisely
“The more you try to crush your true nature, the more it will control you. Be what you are. No one who really loves you will stop.” ― Cassandra Clare
The most amazing gift of being ourselves is that it actually replenishes us. And interestingly enough, when we conform and contort ourselves to others’ expectations, values and demands, we actually deplete ourselves of energy because it is out of alignment with the direction our true selves wish to go. Funny how nature actually rewards us for being ourselves. Think about it. When you are able to find time to do what you love, are you watching the clock? Are you counting the minutes? Most likely, you don’t have any interest in checking the time because you’ve lost track of it the moment you dove into your project. What a beautiful gift, no?
4. Gain Control
“We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.” ― Virginia Satir
Knowing something is comforting, whether we like what we know or not, and thus humans by their very nature seek to “know” in order to rid themselves of the “unknowns”. By knowing, we no longer fear it and feel a sense of control. Others, in their attempt to try to understand us, will place their perceptions of how the world works upon us. And if we let their perceptions become our perceptions without realizing the information they lack about who we are, we are hindering our potential.
The past few months my own life has highlighted this exact lesson. Even when people are genuinely trying to help, if we have done our homework, we can quickly discern how short-sighted their comments are. In observing these limited perceptions, it is crucial that we trust ourselves, remain in tune with what we know we are capable of and take on the responsibility of owning our own destiny. More often than not, the trust we have placed in ourselves will not disappoint.
5. A Raw Exhibition of Courage
“To be one’s self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity.” ― Irving Wallace
Choosing to be ourselves, choosing to listen to the callings that we no longer can ignore, can be a very daunting and frightening task. Often our instinctive nature can be out of step with what people have come to expect from us, or at least slightly different. And so in heeding these callings, we then have to manage the reaction or at least tactfully maneuver through it. The initial first steps of any gesture breaking with conformity will be the most difficult, but with consistent authenticity, our courage helps us to become inured to awed onlookers.
6. True Beauty is Unearthed
“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful, than a woman being unapologetically herself; comfortable in her perfect imperfection. To me, that is the true essence of beauty.” ― Steve Maraboli
The magazines, the red carpets, the commercials, the runways – each decade gravitates to a particular set of ideals which in turn attempt to convince the public of what should or should not be aspired to. How boring. Who wants to live with clones? After all, women such as Diana Vreeland, Barbra Streisand, Mindy Kaling, and Tina Fey, have each referred to their “look” and subsequent inability to fit society’s definition of beauty. But what do each of them have in common – their talent, which sprang from tapping into their natural abilities or passions, catapulted them to success. And now, I would argue that most people do indeed find them each quite beautiful.
7. Respect Manifests
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.” ― Lao Tzu
Anyone who has been through the trenches of attempting, contemplating or eventually prevailing at being themselves will tell you – it’s not easy. And so when people observe others who have chosen to step off the easy trail of following along and decided instead to tap into their abilities, unique capabilities and follow their curiosities no matter how “odd” they may initially seem, there is a quiet reverence that is given. A quiet reverence that can be subtly, yet powerfully, inspiring to one, perhaps many, to do the same.
8. Stop Complicating Your Life
“You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are!” ― John Lennon
I would not venture to say that life is easy, but it is simple. Basically, it comes down to the following: Find your truth, find how your truth can improve the world, and get busy doing the best that you can do. So much energy, frustrating emotion and unrest is spent unnecessarily trying to be someone or something we’re not in an effort to please people who are blinding following along because it was what was done before.
Ask yourself, what can I do, what do I love doing, what comes naturally to me, and then practice, fine-tune and put forth the time and energy to excel. In other words, keep it simple and the opportunities will begin to unfold before you.
The sooner we can applaud the success and gifts in others and not feel pressured to emulate them but rather be inspired by them to seek our own strengths, the sooner we can get to the “second half of our lives”. While the goal really isn’t wanting to stand out, although that is how the quote was stated, how I interpret “standing out” is a desire to discover that we matter, our lives, each one of us, matter. Because they do. You do.
So whether you are a student in high school or an adult realizing the burdening effects of being someone other than who truly are, rest assured, the decision to embrace your uniqueness is one of the kindest gifts you can give yourself. And more likely than not, you will have many silent observers applauding you along the way. I already am.
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