Closing the year, some lessons I wish I could share with my younger self. Sharing these for anyone else who may benefit.
1. There are rules even to non-conformity
Some of us have a deep-set drive to be different from the crowd. This manifests in a stubborn refusal of most requests or any invitation to play along a group. While I think this instinct isn't bad, the application is often too strictly. This leads to an ignorance of how one is perceived, a disregard for the effects of his actions on others.
Doing your own thing doesn’t mean disregarding everything everyone else likes, it’s wise to understand why things matter to others, and understand what you are disregarding. Ask these questions first:
- Do you have a good reason to besmirch this thing that everyone likes?
- Do you understand why they like it?
- Do you have something better to offer?
- What is the best way of communicating that?
Also, mastering what is already there and then putting your own spin on it is the real way to “do you own thing” - the base of it needs to be recognised by your audience, and your own spin is how you stand out. If you were to create a new art style, the depictions would need to be recognisable. Or, no one will notice and no one will care.
Applied to social situations, you need to deliver something your audience wants. They need to like you before you can 'shatter their world' by breaking the rules or presenting to them something truly heretofore unseen.
Taken to absurdity, I wouldn’t invent my own language. If I invented my own language I would have no one to communicate with, unless I persuaded someone else to learn my new language… quite a task in a language that is yet unknown!
An exception to this rule
That said, if your crowd constantly attacks and rejects everything you put forward, it is time to find another. They suffer from the vice of hubris and lack the virtue of curiosity; therefore they aren't good people.
2. The assumption that everyone would choose "right" over "popular"
Related to the foregoing, I thought that I would be thanked for introducing my friends to better music. Or arguing strongly for religious precepts. I was elevating the masses to more enlightened tastes and values, Plato's cave style.
This never happened. Invariably I was asked to shut off the radio, or had headphones thrown back at me, or was told to "become a minister". The mellow sounds of Blur, Radiohead and Eels were not to be received by the masses. The world wasn't filled with lost souls who would eagerly latch onto the word of life.
I took this as a great personal defeat, even a slight. Here was a better way than the "chart" music that was eroding their souls. Here were the timeless words of life that would guide them through the turmoil of this age. Why would they refuse?
The problem was that most people like popular music and hold certain opinions because they are popular. They want something that most of the masses find relatable, so they can relate to each other. This matters much more than "being right", even if what you are offering is objectively better. Strange, new and different is a threat to this delicate social harmony. Thus, my outsider music and religious opinions were to be attacked as threats to the tribe. Though thankfully not with the same ending as the enlightened man in Plato's cave analogy; I endured only scolds and snubbings.
While it is possible to have your own tastes and opinions, if you want to fit in with a certain "tribe" it is important to give their familiar tastes a similar respect as you would have given to yours. If the crowd is to be won over, it will happen when it first respects you. If it cannot even be moved to respect your musical tastes, then it is a signal to find your own people instead.
3. That you can control every outcome and failures are your fault.
Similar to the above, acting with an expectation that everything will go your way will just set you up for more failure. Instead of enjoying the moment and concentrating on the task, your mind will be occupied with thoughts of every possible outcome, and when it fails it is like the sky has fallen.
Ironically this obsession makes failure the most likely outcome; your mind is concentrating on the result and not the means to get there while you are in the act of getting there. It has time travelled ahead to futures that won't exist, while abandoning the body to falter in the present.
The reality is that you have no control over other people (unless you are a politician or master manipulator, but most of us aren't). You can only act in accordance with what you know, and see how they respond. Embracing this will lift a burden off your mind, and free you to enjoy the precious moments of life when they come. Failure will become less frequent when efforts are repeated.
Further, a poor relationship with failure will make future attempts less likely, for who would wish to bear that anguish over and over?
4. You must be already popular or evidently competent before self-deprecating.
This makes it clear that you're joking. If you have a lowly social place, self-deprecation will just further cement that.
There is a vain hope that by making jokes that put yourself down, this propitiation will overcome your pitiful status and the crowd will finally welcome you as an equal.
The reality is that unless you are already an equal, this will not happen. A man of good standing who is very clearly skilled and respected can make jokes putting himself down, because everyone knows it is ironic. It is a social flex, or power projection:
"I can insult myself, but I know you who are beneath me would never dare".
Copying the high status individuals and putting yourself down will not make you like them, if you are already a loser in the eyes of this crowd. You have to build yourself up, if you even can, before you do that.
Yes, they will laugh - but at you, not with you. They won't take you seriously otherwise, or invite you to their social gatherings and holidays. That's how you know.
While that ended on a grim note, I think the overall lesson is clear: Don't put yourself down unless you are already there. Learn what the crowd likes and why before you dump upon it. If the crowd really doesn't like you, find another. If no crowd likes you, it might be time to think why.
There are things you can learn to better your situation. There are deep pitfalls to avoid. The sooner these lessons are digested and the pitfalls are paved over, the longer you have to enjoy an easier passage through life.