Don’t Be Afraid to be Your Own Person

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on October 27, 2011 4:36 pm

 This above all, – to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
                      ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Life is too short to be what others might expect you to be. Do not be afraid to be your own person, to express your ideas, to have faith, to believe in liberty because no one has a right to dictate your life. You are an individual uniquely inspired and worthy of a right to individuality.

Children, youth, and adults struggle with the concept of being true unto themselves. We live in a society plagued with ideological stereotypes, pigeonholing, typecasting, conventionalizing, categorizing, labeling, and imaging.  If-and-only-if, you pledge yourself to a brand, an image, a label, the right cliche, the right clothes, or the right genre, then-and-only-then, will you prove acceptable.  Children are bombarded by what is right, what is wrong, what is fashionable, and what is unfashionable. When does this madness end and the sanity begin?

Socrates philosophical viewpoints sought to deliver thy person from personal bondage. In his philosophy, we learn that if we are to “know thyself to be wise…,” then we must examine our lives fully, accepting the acceptable and changing that which needs changing.

Why should we teach children to be true themselves? What good comes from examining thy personal needs, desires, wants, and dreams? Why not teach a child to simply go with the flow of life?  After all, resistance is the cause of many problems in life.  Why not live a life of ignorance and bliss?

When we teach children to simply go with the flow, we are teaching them to simply follow paths with which they may not desire to go.  It is never right for someone to pose an opposition to something merely to be different, rather any opposition should come from thine heart, mind, and spirit.  An opposing idea, concept, or life should have a purpose and positive direction.  The oppositional personality should have a deep desire to express their own individuality.  If a child is forcibly molded to be like somebody other than their own person, then they will either resent or resist the molding. 

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs describes this need to be true to thine self as self-actualization.

               What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the  desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more  what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

If I limit my child’s ambitions, then I am forcibly informing my child that they can only be what I envision.  If I tell my child that they cannot become an astronaut, a physician, an artist, a philosopher, an author, or any other ambition; then I am in essence declaring they are only capable of becoming what I envision.  You might be saying unto yourself; my child is not gifted, capable, or able to pursue his or her desires. Consider the following:  What if, Professor Stephen Hawking had been forcibly redirected from pursuing his desires based on his physical limitations? Many of today’s academic communities would be at a loss without the breadth of his dynamic knowledge. Furthermore, what if Sir Richard Branson had been limited based on his dyslexia? The world would have experienced losses spanning from the leisure, travel, tourism, mobile, broadband, television, radio, music festivals, finance and health.

What does it mean to know thyself, or to be true to thyself? While there are a variety of philosophical slants, in simple, it means to follow one’s heart, desires, intentions, goals, and quests. Frederick Neitzsche described it as “… (the) one thing (that) is needful: that a human being should attain satisfaction with himself… only then is a human being at all tolerable to behold. Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is continually ready for revenge, and we others will be his victims…” In other words, if a person is swayed from following his or her desires, then they are apt to contain within themselves a heart of resentment. 

What if my child fails? Is it not better to have failed, than never having attempted a desire of one’s life? As a society, we need to stop seeing failure as a bad thing. Failure is merely a landmark of a task attempted, no more than success is a landmark of a task achieved.  Moreover, landmarks are simply the place within our lives that we have attempted to live.  “Your life, the essence of your being, is not based on your own successes or failures, nor is it based on the successes or failures of anyone involved directly or indirectly in your life.” (Brown, 2010, p. 19)

Children should be encouraged to pursue their dreams. If you disagree with your child’s choices, ambitions, dreams, or desires, discuss your concerns, but do not place a damper on your child’s internal drive. A child’s flame of desire rarely can be distinguished by a peer, however, a parental figure or teacher can act as an extinguisher nullifying the flame.  Children need you to be their greatest advocate and ally. 

If a child fails, encourage them to get up, dust themselves off, and to review their pursuits.  In some cases, failure makes the child aware that they might reconsider the pathway of their pursuits. In other cases, failure ignites the child’s flame of desire, setting it ablaze making the desire a deepened goal of that child.  A child should always be complimented and praised for attempting a pursuit.  A child should never be scolded, made to feel worthless, devalued, pathetic, or incapable.  If a child fails to reach a goal, encourage the child, remembering to compliment the child’s ambition to pursue a particular task.

Finally, “life is a combination of our positive and negative choices.” (Brown, 2010, p. 17)  Whether our choices bring about perceived failure or success, we should always be reassured that our goodness lies within. We need to be the directors of our screenplay called life.  If we are being true unto our own person, then we will pursue the diligence of our heart, mind, and spirit.

References

Brown, A. D. (2010) Waiting to live: IUniverse.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review 50, 370-96.

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Pearson, K. A., Large, D. (2006) The Nietzsche reader: John Wiley & Sons

Skinner, N., Brewer, N. (2002) The dynamics of threat and challenge appraisals prior to stressful achievements.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 83 (3) 678-92.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

24 comments on “Don’t Be Afraid to be Your Own Person”

  1. Hello Dr. Asa,
    I enjoyed reading your article and found many concepts/themes to be true. Life is indeed to short to be what others expect – and many of us aren’t. My question would be…how has that been working for the individual to be so unique?

    Social Categorization theory suggests that labeling others is a natural bad habit that all of us struggle with in one way or another. Simply because it’s easy and quick. In light of that reality I feel that the greatest gift a parent can give their child is to teach them to be true to themselves yes – but to also be adaptable. Although Darwin wasn’t as socially inclined in his research as many of my hero’s in social psychology, I believe that his stance that the fittest person will thrive by adapting to new environments rings true today. In my humble opinion I feel that the challenge isn’t our uniqueness – it’s this dastardly human trait to over identify with a title.

    What happens when we are no longer Professor X? or CEO Y, or someone’s favorite? Perhaps we look at former titles, consider dusting them off and putting them back on? Perhaps there is sadness, anger, and rage at “the system”?

    Isabella
    My two cents.

    1. Dear Isabella Riojas

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. Isabella, I agree that it is difficult to switch gears midstream. Furthermore, I feel that changing courses in life is much like moving grade-to-grade, friendship-to-friendship, or having any major life change. It takes time to adapt, time to acclimatize, and time to adjust to the newness. Nevertheless, we can and should seek to become renewed. We should not allow for “a” change in life to become a landmark of negativity, rather a stepping stone on our new journey in life. It is always important to stay true to our person and on our journey, even through the changes we may experience in life.

      Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  2. Sheila says:

    I think as parents all we could ever hope is that our children live by these words and are happy. In the end it is only if we follow our hearts and do what it tells us that we are truly happy in life. I think this article is such a wonderful reminder to us that you should never try to decide a future for our children but instead let them follow their dreams and their hearts to the right path, whatever that may be,
    thanks,
    Sheila

    1. Dear Sheila

      I am sincerely appreciative of the time you have taken to review my latest article. I agree that “in the end, it is only if we follow our hearts and do what it tells us that we are truly happy in life.”
      Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  3. Great article that provokes thought and discussion..which is always welcome. Children naturally and instinctively model. I saw this in my own children in relation to myself. And I guess as a parent and also as a mental health educator I see a need for encouraging healthy self esteem alongside healthy adjustment to effecive social interaction. Oppositional defiance may serve a purpose, and the experience also has personal consequences. Children and adults may fast track our learning through effective modelling from others, and at the same time, we need healthy boundaries in owning who we are in relation to others. Erikson is also instructive in childhood stages of development and I think his idea that if we do not learn or effectively negotiate one particular stage then we sort of stumble upon that continually through adulthood until we are able to return and learn: and autonomy v shame and doubt is stage two his his thinking there. I would be cautious of leading children to be their own identity without relation to a range of modelling as young people whilst in the active development of who they are becoming may not yet have fully become themselves yet ! In this respect, I am not so confident to assert I am the director of my own screen play either…I may learn to direct my responses to the drama of my life situation, which is a different though similar concept. And increasingly it seems to me one is born into a complex inheritance of culture, history, place, genetics, social, family…within which there is also a germ of possibility about “who am I destined to become”. And sometimes the holding back, or the challenge is required by destiny in order for personal development: Churchill had a stutter in childhood possibly because he was destined to become a great orator (for example) and the country song “a boy named Sue” is instructive here also. Or as Leonard Cohn says “there is a crack in everything..that is how the light gets in”.

    1. Dear Mr Arana Pearson

      Thank you for taking the time to reply to my latest article. Nature verses nurture is a real conundrum. Nevertheless, I would arguably say, that whether or not we have experienced a negative experience through nature or nurture, we are capable of harnessing within our person the ability to overcome all barriers placed in our lives. However, the truth is if a child is insulated from a harmful event or capable of receiving care following a harmful event, they are capable of overcoming and choosing a positive path in life. Moreover, even if a parent proves a barricade, an individual is capable of moving beyond or around this obstacle.

      Again, thank you for your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. This article is a good reminder to stay the course with what we want for our selves and our life, rather than succomb to external pressures that lead us from our desires.
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Dear Elisabeth Davies,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback. We shouldn’t allow others to “…lead us from our desires,” but if we do, and we recognize it, then we should simply saddle up and ride again.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  5. Inspiring post, Asa. Although you are making one point, you have covered a lot of territory in the process. So, to choose 2 to comment on, 1st, re. our children—if the parent has the means, it is a great gift to expose a child to a variety of activities (gymnastics, Girl Scouts, French lessons, etc.), over time, of course. But, short of that, if parents would only observe, really look to learn who that child is-with an open mind, they would encourage their child toward self-discovery
    As to us adults, how about this suggestion: Notice which parts you have actualized and which parts are underdeveloped. The move toward balance and integration which Jung encouraged seems to fit with Maslow’s observations..

    1. Dear Paula Young, LMFT,

      I appreciate your willingness to take time out to review my latest article. Your feedback is much appreciated. Interesting point that you have made about there being two topics made in this latest article, because as I wrote this article, I had several different paths which seemed to emerge as I forge the words onto the paper. I am pleased that this article hit a home run with you.

      May my future articles prove an asset to your life.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  6. LaSonya says:

    Dr. Brown, this is an Excellent discussion. I concur that a person’s value is merely the substantial truth of the person. Living up to others’ hopes or advisements rob us of the very essences of the self-interests which define our individualism.

    1. Dear LaSonya,

      Thank you for your very warm remarks. I agree with your sentiments that “living up to others’ hopes or advisements (does) rob us of the very essences of the self-interests which define our individualism.” It is vitally important that we are true to our person and loyal to our life’s journey.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  7. trevor says:

    Amazing article! You will never be happy if you continuously try to fit in. Be yourself, because it is impossible to please everyone. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Dear Trevor,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your warm remarks. I agree that “you will never be happy if you continuously try to fit in.” There is more to life than simply fitting. If you deny yourself the right to being authentically you, then you have lost out on living life to its fullest indeed.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  8. Claire Holcomb-Drapkin says:

    Well said.

    I struggle with this daily in my own life. It’s not an easy task to be authentic
    in our society.

    1. Dear Claire Holcomb-Drapkin,

      Thank you for the taking to reply to my latest article. You are correct that “it is not an easy task to be authentic…” but I can assure you, that the more you practice a life of authenticity, the more apt you will become authentic.

      Warm regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  9. Deborah Pickering says:

    Hi Asa,
    I love the theme of this article. The force of others desire to make us conform to their expectations is at times overwhelming. I find this to be especially true in small town living. In fact, the desire of others towards our actions and behavior can be so domineering that one can forget, or be totally unaware, that we do have the right to choose the direction of our own lives.
    Once aware of this truth, then the direction of our life is up to us and us alone. It is not an easy transition to make, but is the only path to true self worth and personal happiness.
    As a layperson I completely understand what you are saying in your article. One thing I would like to see more of in this article are some real life examples of how we are dissuaded from our inner path. Parents and teachers are often unaware of their offhand comments which can have a very deep impact on young minds. An example would be, “Suzy, your singing is too quiet.”, then one teacher says to the other “She’s too shy, she’ll never make it as a singer”. Devastating to the child to overhear such a comment, she’ll probably never audition again. Examples of this nature can make the content of your article more meaningful, for the layperson.
    Otherwise though, thank you for the reminder that our life path is ours alone to choose.
    Cheers, Deb P

    1. Dear Deb P,

      Thank you for taking the time to review and offer feedback on my latest article. I do agree that “once (we are) aware of this truth, then the direction of our life is up to us and us alone.” We cannot forge a pathway for another, however we can gently guide them down a path that is productive and true to their nature.

      Deb, I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  10. Perry says:

    Awesome article. Rings very true and positive.

    1. Dear Perry,

      I am appreciative of your warm review, time and feedback.

      Again, thank you.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  11. Ian says:

    I agree with the spirit of this article. I have heard this before and have struggled to subject it to myself at any point in my life. My parents were not too troubled with thoughts like this. They were constantly trying to make ends meet, and had no clue I might have been the next Pavarotti. Nor did they care to find out. Like any kid I wanted to be a pilot, spaceman, fireman or scuba diver depending on the time of the day on any given day. They didnt mean me any harm but they still didnt avail me to all my potential.

    In the life of day to day I think it takes a rare individual to be able to not only have glimmer of an idea of what they want to be, and rarer still to be able to accomplish that regardless of their resources and social status. Just because one can dream and wishes really hard, this doesn’t legitimize the pursuit that may cause undo hardship to self or family.

    In order to be all you can be and live your potential you must do whatever it takes to accomplish this. Being true to oneself includes realizing where oneself is, and may require to move oneself (geographically, socially or economically) in order to be that true. What are you willing to do, once others around you have taken you as far as they can? We should ask little Janey what does she want to be, and then ask what does she want to do to attain it, because A,B and C are likely to happen.

    1. Dear Ian,

      I thank you for taking time to review and respond to my latest article.

      It is difficult to believe in oneself when you have known no other way. Furthermore, it is equally as difficult to dream when life presents financial restraints, but without the dream no one would have moved beyond the confines of their known life.

      The dream, the quest, the belief in self is about personal resiliency. It is important we look beyond our known world, seeking to live in a world better than we have experienced.

      If we fall, we should not simply lie down and wither away, rather we should get up and dust ourselves off continuing on our pathway called life.

      Ian, I am truly appreciative of your time and feedback.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  12. Tracy says:

    Thank you Asa for your inspiring words. To encourage our children to be true to themselves has to be mirrored by us, as adults, being true to ourselves. We teach through our own actions. Thank you for the encouraging reminder for the benefit of our children’s self esteem.

    Tracy

    1. Dear Tracy,

      I am appreciative of your kind words. I agree, that we do “teach through our own actions.” It is important that we consider the words with which we speak and the manner with which we live our lives.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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