How Paris and Ayn taught me to be an asshole and why it’s a good thing, 2013

As a 16 year old I adopted the doctrine “Never Apologize.” I stole it from a Julia Child movie after falling in love with the character’s charisma, wit and unabashed originality. I strove to be as unique, as fiery and as passionate. But, inevitably as I grew out of adolescence and into adulthood, I began to categorize myself. Sometimes, categorization is okay. You know what you like and what you want and you slip into that category and relish in its inherent comfort. In short, you do you.

But oftentimes, I found I stamped labels on myself without really reflecting on it. I shoved myself into corners. “This isn’t for me. This is for me.” I didn’t do any exploring out of my comfort zone because I assumed, I was doing me and that’s all that counted. I disregarded things because I wasn’t, in hindsight, brave enough to consider myself as superior than one category. I didn’t know people could be so many things at once. In short, I was afraid of fucking up. However, after a semester of angry Parisians and an even angrier philosopher, I realized you don’t really learn how to “do you” without learning how to do everything else first. Even if this involves fucking up. Even if this involves being an asshole.

I realized I was walking on ice for much too long. I boxed myself in and used this as rationale. I felt guilty for the things I really desired, for the people I really didn’t, for the life I wanted. I labeled myself so quickly. I’d say, “I am too nice to ignore this person,” or “I am too practical to do this,” or “This is the kind of guy I should be dating.” I never really did anything. I did things I gave myself an approval for. I have realized I need approval. I can’t do things just because I want them. But Paris, it doesn’t give you approval. Neither do the French. They give 0 fucks if you approve of them. You walk by Parisians in coffee shops, smoking away their lifetime, moody, sullen, devouring plate upon plate of deserts, insulting your lifestyle, insulting your ideas. You feel annoyed. Where is their work ethic? Their desire of conviviality? Yeah, it doesn’t really exist. In Paris, you do you or you don’t do anything.

A couple of months after I’d “acclimated” to college life, I began to fear how I was perceived. I have never been so vicious with myself than I have in these past 2 years. I let people dictate what I could wear, how I could act, who I could date — whether or not I realized it. But then there was this city. This church. I had 4 months in Paris, so was I going to waste it? It was like receiving a diagnosis for a terminal disease. These are your 4 months. Do with it as you will. I think this is the first time I really ever stopped apologizing. You don’t judge a Parisian girl for what she’s wearing, what she says, what she smokes, how she thinks. Because she doesn’t let you.

These past 4 months, I yolo-ed my way through parties, conversations, and restaurants. I stopped answering people I didn’t want to talk to. I started being aggressive in my choices. If I didn’t want it, I wouldn’t accept it. It seems so obvious in hindsight, but I’d never really been such an asshole. I never put myself, truly and completely, first. Ayn Rand has a lot to say about the “virtue of selfishness.” She’s pummeled it into my head for the past 4 months and I have to say I sort of agree. The important thing in life is to be happy, but a happiness created through active thinking. Don’t label yourself into corners. Don’t let people walk over you because you’ve decided that’s what it means to be kind. Consider, what Ayn calls, “the nature of your battle.” Once you decide, whole heartedly, what you want the rest doesn’t matter. You’ll fight for it, you’ll be an asshole. And maybe even, like me, when you don’t know what you want you don’t let that stop you. Just go. Forward, faster, stronger.

So now, I pretend I’m still in Paris. These are still my four months. Will I talk to people I don’t want to, be kind to those who don’t deserve it, live by a code I’ve developed out of fear? Or will I strive to make mistakes, actively think about myself and my life and never apologize? Sometimes, I still feel like an asshole. I still cringe when I repeat to myself “not my problem” when somebody needs something or wants something I don’t want to give. “I’m not like that,” I say. Well, are these 4 months for me or for others? Is my life spent categorizing myself based on other people’s ideas or on pursuing everything I want? I can’t say I’ve figured it all out. But I can say the moments when I do exactly what I want, when I don’t let other people dictate my choices, when I really relish in my thirst for life, I don’t mind being an asshole.