If there is one lesson I would love to teach everyone I come in contact with it is this:
I know, you have heard that phrase a million times. So often it has lost all its meaning.
You think “Of course I’m going to be myself! Who else would I be?”
But, you know, that simple phrase carries so much more than the literal meaning. It means not hiding your true feelings, wants, desires, thoughts, and beliefs. It means not changing your image, pretending to be something else, liking something, loving something, doing something, being something.
The pressure to conform is one of the most powerful forces in nature. If you go along with the crowd you will be protected. This is true for everyone and everything on Earth. A pack of gazelles run through the African plains together because there is power in numbers when an hungry cheetah comes calling. And a pack of teenage girls hang together because it keeps one of them from being singled out for things both good and bad. A student sits at the lunch table alone and others wonder that is wrong with him or her. They must smell, or have issues, or people hate them, etc. The flow of speculations run wild and nothing has actually been done or said. But clearly, something is wrong! Nobody thinks that maybe this solo student just wants to eat their lunch in quiet and watch the world around them.
Of course, this pack mentality carries over into the adult world as well. Humans find power in numbers. Nobody wants to be alone because it leaves them vulnerable. Ever walk into a Pub and you are the only one there? Even if you weren’t planning on socializing that night, it is freaking weird! Why is nobody else there? Are they all off doing something else? Was there some huge event going on and you weren’t invited? What will people think if they walk into the Pub and they see you sitting alone at the bar? It is safer just to leave and find some people.
Imagine going to a major sporting event and you are the only one there! The chances of that ever happening are non-existent, but imagine it. Even if it is a World Cup match or the Super Bowl and you have the best seat in the house, wouldn’t it be incredibly scary to be in that huge stadium all by yourself? Now imagine the same event with a packed house and you are the only one rooting for the other team. Like being a Red Sox fan in Yankee Stadium, or hypothetically, a Mets fan in Busch Stadium the home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Take it from me, it’s not easy. Often the easiest route becomes giving up on your loyalty to your team and doing what ever it takes to fit in. Or, heaven forbid, get beer poured over your head. Going with the pack keeps you under the radar and, although it prevents you from any kind of personal success, keeps you safe and secure.
I tend to be a bit of an extroverted introvert. If you have ever spent quality time with me you know that I can be loud, silly, funny, and controversial. (Ok.. maybe not that controversial.. I’m just trying to create a daring image of myself to make you think I go outside the lines) Case in point. I am a character actor. I see the need for a type of character in a room and I try to fill it. I can be the political hot head, the George Carlin “What happened to the world?” guy. The Jerry Seinfeld “Have you ever noticed?” guy. I do voices. A lot of voices! Old man, Young kid, New York Jew, Hillbilly, Harvey Fierstein, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gollum, Judd Geizer: The Chupacabra Whisperer, etc. Whatever voice I think will get a few people to laugh, or at least myself. But none of them are me. I’m an Irish kid in his early 30’s who has watched a lot of TV and movies. And these characters are a cloak to hide the real me. I like peace and quiet. Just me, my thoughts, and the voices in my head (all nice, no worries). I am shy and always have been. I don’t make a lot of small talk and rarely speak without being spoken to. People freak me out! Ok, maybe not “Freak me out” but I fit right into radio because I could speak to millions (statistics pending) without actually speaking to anyone. I could play a character and not worry about any immediate judgement. Even when I am performing to a group of people, I turn off my eyes and just speak into the distance. The moral of the story is, if I let my true character out into public everyone would wonder about that weird kid sitting alone in the corner. And that, my friends, is something I would like to avoid.
I began writing this article on April 20th. Or as some people know it 4/20: International Cannabis Day. The day to go smoke a lot of Marijuana because some Twitter post told you to. I did some market research that day in Wal-Mart and Subway and I couldn’t help notice that people were walking and talking just a bit slower and more subs were being ordered than on the day the US Navy spends their tax dollars. It was clear that enough people in this country were participating, but when I asked a few people (Online, I’d never talk to strangers in real life) about why 4/20 is the day to smoke Pot, nobody could actually give me an answer. I wont take the time to explain the reason here because, quite frankly, I find it almost as comical as the celebration, but look it up online if you are interested. My point is, tens of thousands of Americans chose to get baked on April 20th because they wanted to fit in (and other reasons, I’m sure). If it were really about enjoying smoking Marijuana, then wouldn’t they just do it anyway? Why did so many people choose the day when they knew thousands of other people would be doing it too? Pack mentality and fitting in. Safety in numbers.
I have written my views on why we feel the need to fit in and the importance of staying with a group. Now, what can be done about it? I’m not saying finding people with similar interests isn’t a positive activity. It is a fantastic idea! That is, unless the group you are trying to fit into is not the group where you belong.
I was a jock at heart, I just lacked a lot of the physical ability to be one on the outside. I played Football (poorly), Hockey (poorly), and Baseball (extremely poorly). I was Captain of the Cross Country team and was quite a good runner, but because of my physical limitations due to my Ankylosing Spondylitis, I was never as good as I could have been. But, that was okay because I still enjoyed doing the best I could do. The person I was not was the party animal. I would go to loud obnoxious parties in college and I would put on a good face, but I hated it! I never ever felt comfortable in a mass of people and loud music. The corner table at the Pub with my friends and a glass of Guinness or Stone IPA was more my comfort zone. Eventually I became true to myself and if going to a loud party was the only way I could socialize, then I just didn’t socialize that night. It wasn’t worth the discomfort.
I would encourage anyone who reads this to evaluate where they truly feel at home. If you are quiet, then don’t pretend to be loud. If you are a reader, then don’t pretend to be a Reality TV fan. If you are gay, then don’t pretend to be straight. If you want to be in the musical then audition for the musical. Don’t worry about what other people might say. Be the person you want to be! If you want to test your limits, then by all means test away. If you like it, great! If not, you will have a comfortable place and identity to call home.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t even pretend to. I don’t even think having a PhD in Psychology means you have all the answers. Is this blog post a cover-up of who I really am? Probably. But, maybe not. I’m just trying on the costume of someone who writes these kinds of things. Maybe I want people to read this and think I am intelligent and insightful. It’s human nature to hide your true self. I don’t think anyone can go a whole day without tweaking a personality trait or interest a bit to impress someone, or at least fit in. But, I think it’s worth a try.
“Pretending to be someone else is exhausting” – Anonymous (Or, maybe I made up this quote to make people think I’m the kinda guy that likes quotes)