Times of trouble call for deepening your roots.
Elle Beau answers your questions about sex, love, relationships, polyamory, and life.
Sometimes I feel that a lot of our struggles (personal and societal) come from conforming to standards that encourage us to portray ourselves in a way that hides our true beings. We do this in order to conform to a standard that is away from our inner selves (I’m not only thinking about sexual expression, but also in many fields, as a person who may be afraid of being caught reading poetry in high school for fear of being judged by the football guys).
How can I be myself in a world that favors conformity?
~Wanting to be me
It can be pretty difficult to figure out who you truly are. There is so much pressure to conform and socialization to that end that it can be hard to even know what’s you and what is actually all of that. Is this something you actually want or care about, or something that your parents (or your culture, your religion, or your friends) expect of you? And even when you do figure some of that out, then you have to figure out how to live a life that reflects it.
I was lucky enough (although it felt unlucky at the time) to grow 5 inches between 5th and 6th grade until I was not only the tallest girl in the class but also very nearly the tallest person. I was teased a lot about it, and although that was unpleasant, there was absolutely nothing that I could do to change the fact that I no longer conformed, so I had to learn to adapt. This is what we life coaches call AFGO (Another Fucking Growth Opportunity).
Many, many years later I started to more widely embrace a life that really doesn’t fit the norm, but those early years of literally not being able to conform actually served me well and paved the way for that. Having a child who is on the autism spectrum also helped me to further let go of trying to conform to other people’s expectations. Both of those situations helped me to understand that I don’t need to make other people happy or meet their expectations. In fact, I don’t even need them even to like me. The most important thing I need to do is to live a life that makes me happy — a life where I like and am proud of myself.
When you say that you don’t want the football guys to know that you read poetry, you are trying to conform to who they think you should be, rather than just doing something that gives you enjoyment or pleasure. First off, it’s not their business what you do with your time. You don’t need their approval, although I do also understand the human impulse towards being accepted as well as the desire to not be hassled or bullied for being yourself.
There will always be people who like you and people who don’t. The trick is to seek out and connect with the people who like you for you, rather than because you conform to their expectations. This never goes away, no matter where you are in life. It feels great to have approval but it becomes pretty hollow when you find yourself acting in ways that aren’t really you just to get that from people you might not even particularly like. Being liked for you, on the other hand, feels awesome! Keep figuring out who that is so that you can live it and find the other people that resonates with. This makes the disapproval of some other people a lot easier to ignore.
One of the things my mother told me that helped me get through those years of being teased was to say, “For a lot of those people, this is going to be the highlight of their existence. You, on the other hand, are going on to bigger and better things.” In other words, I wasn’t always going to be in an environment where being a football player, a cheerleader or the same height as everyone else was an important thing to be. She was right! And this applies later in life as well. Whoever the “cool” people are in one place, there are plenty of other places where that doesn’t mean all that much. They may be the king or queen of their niche, but at some point, you’ll probably have the chance to go find a different niche that better suits you.
I’m not going to lie to you. The process of figuring out what part is you and what part is your socialization or the expectations of other people is the work of a lifetime. It’s like peeling an onion and it takes a certain amount of intention and willingness to keep doing that because much like the onion, it sometimes makes you cry. A lot of people never bother, and just go through life being who they think they are supposed to be. They aren’t mentally or emotionally strong enough to endure the effing growth opportunity, but if you think of it like being a knight going on a perilous, but exciting quest, it becomes less of a burden and more of an adventure.
My motto these days is, “In times of trouble, deepen your roots.” In other words, rather than trying to react to what is taking place, find a way to get more deeply in touch with what’s really you, what your inner resources are, and who you want to be in this situation. When you turn the focus away from reacting to externals and spend more time on cultivating internals, you feel more in control of your life — and that makes it much easier to just be happy being you!
If you’ve got a question for Elle — about non-traditional life, love, sex, or really, just about anything, feel free to post it in the comments or to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.