There is so much to say on this topic. So for time, we’ll call this Part 1.
A little under ten years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a capacity crowd at my grandfather’s funeral and share my memories of him. He passed away at 75, and up to that point, he did things and lived life his way. I mentioned how I initially found much humour in what I considered his ‘eccentricities’, but eventually grew to enjoy and appreciate his individuality. I came to realize that no matter how much I or anybody else laughed, it really did not matter to him because he was being himself and found joy in that. It also really hit home that day when I realized that all I had left were those memories. I concluded by quoting Frank Sinatra and reminded all that my grandfather was an individual who was himself to the fullest and did things, his way.
One interesting thing I’ve learned in life is that, for a lot of people, particularly older people, they seem more at peace and largely do not give a (insert desired expletive). When I was younger and wanted to be seen as “cool”, I could not understand why these people seemed to be so intentionally uncool. Dressing and acting cool and having people’s approval was important, but these people were not cool and could not be bothered to even care. The older I got, though, I realized that was kind of the point, not to be cool but to be happy just being yourself.
By the way, is the word “cool” even cool anymore? I don’t even know.
But anyway, here are just a few things I have discovered over the years about being your happiest, truest self:
There is no real value in being ‘cool’ if you are not being authentic
Simply put, even if you seem to be everybody’s ‘cup of tea’, being somebody other than yourself will drain you eventually as you struggle with the burden of what I call ‘always having to be on’. The false smile: on. The pretend personality: on. That image everybody seems to like: on. It is freaking exhausting! Trust me, I know. Just be the best version of yourself, you will enjoy it and will be less exhausted.
Also, you’ll grow to resent the person you pretend to be, as well as resent the people who like that version of you. Save yourself and others the trouble, and just be you. And even as some people will still not like the real you; at least give them the courtesy of not wasting their time and let them dislike the real you from the break. And will you even care? Probably not!
Being your true self will, not doubt, open you up to ridicule
I was one of those people. I looked at my granddad and those other folks and constantly thought “What are they thinking?!” while laughing; often with the crowd. The reality is while people are praised for standing out, the truth is that standing out often comes with much ridicule. There will be those are comfortable to appear normal and at the same time paint you as weird for not following the masses.
I learned this myself at a young age as well. As a child, my parents kept vinyl records from years past, and that largely influenced my musical tastes. In middle school, it became the running joke amongst my schoolmates that I did not know any modern rap or R&B songs but only the golden oldies. While the teasing was unpleasant, it did not change my musical taste. Really, most of the music at that time was sampled from the original songs I was already listening to. In the end, even as a kid I knew what I enjoyed and kept listening. 20 years later, I’m still listening to the same music.
But being authentic will also garner admiration, even in secret
So, a little more about me: I became a backpacker in my early thirties (insert shocked face emoji here). And while not a full time backpacker (I need to work to afford travel), I do follow the backpacker model (budget!) when I travel. What this means is:
- When and where I book flights to is largely based on price;
- I stay primarily at hostels and B & B’s;
- Price, location and reviews determine which hostel I stay to and whether I stay in a shared dorm or a private room;
- I utilize primarily public transportation;
- My diet will consist primarily of local street food and hole in the wall restaurants;
- I do very little to no shopping; and
- Everything I carry has to fit into one bag (but this also depends on where I am going, what time of the year etc.)
Maybe there are other Bahamians who travel like I do (please reach out to me, I feel alone!). But largely, most people I’ve met don’t. And that’s ok! You do not have to travel this way to enjoy yourself.
What my style of travel does, however, is provide me with experiences that most people on the beaten path do not get and I come back with great stories. Over time, I’ve discovered that people look forward to these stories upon my return so that they can the experience vicariously. Over time, these persons outnumber those who offer ridicule. Many of them openly (and the others secretly) admire the fact that I am not afraid to live life my way, because they, through my experiences, get to live it to.
So what I’ve learned here is, in the end, you must find what works for you; and as much as possible do it and enjoy it.
Some of your greatest moments will come when you are your authentic self
In the end however, being your true authentic self is not about anybody else, it is about you. It is about you discovering your true self and knowing what makes you happy while doing away with the identity that was merely generated to please others.
When I discovered that I enjoyed had certain interests and enjoyed certain activities; I started investing in those experiences and, as a result, I started having the time of my life. Travelling to far- away places just to enjoy dancing, wine, art, cultures and music became my life and now I enjoy it very much, whether alone or with others. Going to events no longer became a chore as I largely limited these to things I enjoy and get excited about. Almost immediately, I started making awesome memories when I released the weight of other people’s expectations and preferences and focused on who I was and what I wanted to do.
Oh, and also, I started to meet more people like me…….we’ll talk more about this in Part 2 and beyond.