Yes, I mean you, and I want you to just think about you. It’s an uncomfortable topic, I know. We aren’t supposed to think about ourselves. There are so many other people and other problems in the world to think about. Wouldn’t it be selfish to focus on the topic of: you?
Let me back up a bit. I was sitting on a picnic table by the boat docks of Grand Marais, taking a break from volunteer painting at a folk craft school. It was sunny, and warm for a Lake Superior April day, and very beautiful. I could see why some young people come up here for a summer or even 10 months at a time as interns, for the chance to live and work with so many amazing people and ancient crafts. Interesting life choice.
And then it hit me: Why are the lives of many (though not all) so predictable, when most of us, in the western world at least, have possibly an unlimited set of opportunities and life choices?
It truly is a blessing to live in a day and age when most of us have enough resources and technology not only to meet our basic needs, but to exceed them. Chances are, there are thousands of things you could be doing today, or this year, or this decade. I don’t mean the high-sounding nonsense about “you could be President of the US one day if you set your mind to it” and similar things that are said more to make someone feel better than to be helpful [social classes are also real things, but a whole other blog post]. I mean that you probably can actually paint a picture (if you have 5 bucks and can drive to Walmart), or research the coral reefs you were fascinated by as a kid (if you have access to internet), or start taking jazz dance lessons (if you feel up to it). I mean you probably can actually start a small business or non-profit doing something you love (even if you think you are too old for it), or study abroad for a summer – whether or not you already have a degree (with enough planning and saving), or hike the entire Appalachian Trail (maybe your employer would give you a leave of absence if you were raising awareness for a worthy cause). I mean that you probably can actually become an author or inventor or activist, if that’s what you’ve always wanted to be (at least part-time), or spend a year visiting every national park in an RV before taking that corporate position (while renting out your house), or, with a LOT of planning, eventually move to a different country (dibs on New Zealand). The list goes on. Thousands of opportunities. Did I say thousands? I should have said millions.
Most of which are never considered.
Not considered, because they aren’t even on the radar. Why? Because, in general, humans only want to consider those things with which they are already familiar – and comfortable. There is a phenomenon known as selective auditory attention (if you haven’t heard of it – *cough* – look it up, it’s fascinating). I would propose that there is an equally prevalent occurrence of selective consideration. Perhaps we hear about a lot of ideas and opportunities, but if they do not fit into the box of our current (or past) lifestyle, we literally may not view it as an option, even if it is, in fact, something we could do.
When you do this, you are robbing yourself. When you do this, you are robbing others.
I’m not saying you need to do every crazy idea you hear about. By all means, please don’t! Just consider them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get married and start a career right out of college, have the first of 4 kids and collect a dog within year one, settle into that white-picket-fence suburban home, and build your 401k for 40 steady years before retiring to Florida. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you really want to do. But first consider what you want to do – and then consider if those wants are actually your own. Or are they assumed wants: do you give yourself the illusion of control, while actually being controlled by other’s expectations and what you believe is “normal,” which may or may not actually be you?
Which brings us back to that uncomfortable topic: thinking about you. Who are you, really? What are your genuine passions and personality? What options do you have, and what options does the real you want to choose? Yes, choosing new paths will, in fact, change you, and lead to uncertain places. But to not choose them is still to choose. To continue down the same path is, in reality, to choose in favor of it and to reject all other paths, even if being done unawares. There may be nothing at all wrong with continuing that path, but the stakes are incredibly high. Best to give some thought to it.
What it all comes down to is this: Live Deliberately.
And the why of this is at least as important as anything else you’ll find on this blog: who you are is important. In fact, it is the most important thing about you – in a sense it is the only thing at all about you. This is almost laughably obvious; I could say something like “if you aren’t who you are, then who are you at all,” but it would sound corny, so I’ll leave this sentence in the hypothetical.
Maybe you have this idea that you aren’t important. Maybe you think you are a problem. Maybe you think the world would be better off without you. If so, I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. I believe you are an immortal being created by Love. No part of your personality, quirks, or desires is a mistake (you may make mistakes, and reject the image you are made in, but that doesn’t change who are made to be, deep down). You are the way you are for a reason, which is not only to reflect the beauty of the One who made you, not only to share yourself with others, but also for your own sake. As neither an accident, nor an end to an ulterior means, you are an end in and of itself. God – at least the god I believe in – doesn’t love you just so he can bless others through you. How silly a thought! Why, then, would he want to love those others – so that he can love you through them? You end up in circles with a god who doesn’t actually love anybody. The fact is, he loves you. You. And not in spite of who you are, but because of it – after all, you, being human, proceed from him and share inseparably in his very Life! And he made you who you are, not to try to hide from yourself and live a fabricated life to fit arbitrary standards, but to be free to be yourself! There are few joys greater than realizing this.
While it would be wonderful enough if it stopped here – and maybe you should stop at this, if you haven’t given thought to the topic of you in a while – it doesn’t. When you are free to be yourself and to invite others into the genuine you, they get a marvelous, mysterious gift. For the greatest gift you can give is yourself. It’s the same gift that God gives us: he gives himself. There are few things as refreshing as being with those who are genuinely themselves, because then they naturally give out who they are, which is itself a real gift from God. Not only is who you are important to others, but by being yourself you truly help others. This is what I meant earlier that it’s not necessarily selfish to give some thought to yourself – so you can be yourself. And this is why I said it is important to live deliberately – so you can choose a life that is consistent with who you were made to be.
What’s ironic, is that the very reason we tend to hide from – and forget – our true selves is for fear of others, and what they will think of us. But we don’t hold that same standard to most others; we admire and enjoy being with those who are genuine and confident, even in their differences. You can be that person. You can be yourself. Maybe it’s wearing overalls and a beard and making pottery kilns in your spare time. Maybe it’s spreading peace and love by starting a band clad in yellow and disco balls while hosting travelers in your own home. Maybe it’s taking jazz dance lessons, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and being an inventor. Whatever it is, there will be something tangible about you, such that when others meet you, they will know they have met a gift.
You are a gift. Live like it’s true.
Don’t take your life for granted.