"You shaved off the spiky bits and the parts other people didn't understand. You edited out everything unrecognizable and uncommon and uncomfortable. You made sure that whatever you produced was categorizable into a bucket with whatever else lots of other people produced. You indexed yourself and tagged yourself and made sure your own self-content was compatible with the most recent SEO guidelines. You paid attention to where everyone else was headed so that you could be headed there too. It took a lot of effort and hard work and focus and sacrifice. But unfortunately, it's starting to look like the thing you were sacrificing was … yourself."
— Pr0ph3t, The Future is for the Weird
I love this quote.
It beautifully captures the process of trying to remove everything potentially offensive, flawed, and weak from yourself to blend in with other people.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this tendency makes sense:
You needed to fit in with your tribe to survive. If that meant sacrificing your weird ideas, supporting things you didn't believe in, or doing things you didn't like, it was a small price to pay. After all, your conformity secured your survival. Your tribe protected you, provided a sense of belonging, and supported you.
In the modern world, this tendency has even more advantages:
The less offensive, flawed, or contrarian you behave, the less likely you'll be attacked, ridiculed, or even canceled. Keeping your head down protects you from the spears flying above, which hit those not smart enough to hide in the shadows of conformity.
Or so it seems.
Because even though it seems safe to give up your quirks to fit in and avoid ridicule, it's a deal with the devil. If you really think about it, you realize that you sacrifice something much more valuable: yourself.
Who are you when you've shaved off all the rough edges, hidden all your flaws, and navigated your way through uncomfortable conversations without running the risk of offending anyone?
Chances are: an uninteresting, inauthentic, and deeply insecure human.
Often, it's not until the damage is done that you realize how terrible the bargain you've struck truly was.
By conforming to expectations, pleasing others, and trying to fit in, you risk losing yourself. You won't hear your authentic voice over the choir of voices that you've trained yourself to value more highly than yours over the years. Then you realize, that you can no longer discern your goals from external expectations, friends from foes, and yourself from everyone else.
Then you're lost.
Finding your way out of this confusing labyrinth you've created for yourself takes time and effort.
It means peeling back layer after layer of comfortable, convenient, or protective armor you've put on to hide your true self to reveal your authentic self. It means to carefully, compassionately, and attentively listen to your true voice and follow it until it reveals the path back to your true self.
Now, if you recoil in horror because you see yourself in what I've written above, know that it's not too late to change paths. Once you've buried your true self beneath a myriad of false layers, it is much more challenging to find yourself but it's not impossible. Even though you might have already put on some protective layers, it's not too late to start removing them or at least stop putting on more of them.
But it's urgent and important to begin removing those layers as soon as possible. Because it's possible to come to a point where you mistake the opinions, beliefs, and preferences you've adopted from others as your own.
Once you've reached this point it's almost impossible to reconnect with your true self. At that point, it's possible that you've lost yourself completely, maybe even irredeemably.
Don't let it come to that.