Now, now, blog readers, you already know the answer to this one:
(Sigh. Shrug shoulders. Obvious answer. Damn it to hell!)
Can't be perfect, eh? Now what?
Let me give you the perspective a 68 years old has on this question, and that's the real subject of this post.
All animals, from bugs to whales, are programmed to fit in with their kind. Those whose characteristics vary too far from the norm are "suspect," in a Darwinian sense. If uncorrected and allowed, say, to breed, they'll possibly pose a threat to the survival of the species, which has evolved to what the current generation thinks of as near perfection. Stamp out nonconformists!
Human beings are a prime example. As children we're urged to conform, and this push comes first from most parents ("Don't do that—people are looking!") and then peers ("What a freak you are!"). High school is a conformity pressure cooker, where the inmates, er . . . students constantly judge one another one on all possible levels. Clothing, physical appearance, personal hygiene, demeanor, etc., are evaluated and the results broadcast over and over. This leads to considerable anxiety and a renewed effort to conform, conform, conform. As the novelist Christopher Moore comments in "Bloodsucking Fiends": "They have to look right or their peers will turn on them like starving dogs."
Since I was very little I've rarely conformed, and—what can I say?—it's been a delightful life. I took my guidance from my parents, both genetically and from example. As the posts I've written about them reveal neither played by the same rules as other people, and, having found each other, they rejoiced in their eccentricity. Whether they were a married couple playing golf for substantial amounts of money against any two men on the Air Force base where they were stationed, or racing the start of World War II to get married days after Pearl Harbor, or refusing to play by military rules as to how to do things (Dad, the commanding officer, probed the private lives of each man in his squadron by long conversations so he would know them, and Mom refused to attend functions held by the officer's wives even though that was a move that could be suicidal for the career of her husband), they lived as they wanted to live and didn't care what others thought. What was important to them both was their independence and their own personhood. They must have been very grateful to have found each other, because marriage to a tradition-bounded spouse wouldn't have lasted very long for either of them.
I wasn't handsome, and on some level, though I strove to hide it, I knew I was gay. Panic? No, no. I had some positive traits, so I looked to those to keep me afloat. I was smart and I was funny. I learned that people liked to talk about themselves, so when approaching others I asked them questions that would get that going ("You're the most popular girl in the school, how do you handle it?"). People are thrown off base by those who aren't playing by the same rules, and that can work in your favor. Who wants to be thought of as dull and ordinary? I know nothing about Lady Gaga as a singer—I wouldn't recognize her if she rang my doorbell—but I certainly admire her daring.
|Lady Gaga in a Meat Dress|
As I settle into being older I realize that I no longer give a damn what anyone thinks. Why should I? I'm retired and my career was already made by the decades I spent building it. There is no "Judge Of the Worth of Douglas Whaley" who will report back whether I succeeded or failed at the game of life and write the result on my tombstone for all to see.
Hmm. As soon as I typed that sentence I knew it was wrong. There is one "Judge" who so qualifies and that's me.
One of my posts is called "The Deathbed Test," and it explains my philosophy on how to judge whether you're making the right decisions in life. The real question to ask yourself is what you will think about all that happened to you from the viewpoint of your final moments on this planet. What will make you smile when you remember it ("That sudden kiss!") and what will make you slap your forehead and think "How could I have been so stupid?"
Perhaps you're the kind of person to whom it's important not to stand out, and who takes comfort in not being noticed. There is nothing wrong with that, and if your happiness depends on your privacy, then arrange your life with that goal in mind. I wish you well.
But you're also allowed to be an eccentric both in your personal life and in your professional one if that's your bent, and you shouldn't shy from such a fate. What? No one has ever done things the way you have? Well, as this blog says in a number of its posts and as I tell my students constantly, in life gall is all! When I teach my law students I tell them (a) it's unethical to advocate things in which you don't have a good faith belief, but, that aside, in planning what to do (b) gall is all! No one has ever done it before? Will it work? Will it shake things up in a good way? Well then—what the hell—try it!
Do you have a new idea, something that's all your own, on how to do things (what to wear, what to propose, how to solve a problem, an outrageous way to get someone to notice you)? Well then, ask yourself if you try it what will happen? Might you be fired? Shunned and avoided? Shamed? Arrested? Will the world crash down on your head? Ugly headlines in the press or an undefendable video on the internet? Goodness! If those bad things will happen, then don't do it. Going too far is every bit as bad and not going anywhere.
But most decisions are not like that and won't have those scary results. The usual answer to these questions is that life will proceed and no one will notice that you've moved closer to an eccentricity that pleases you and makes living easier. Start to embrace your own individuality and cherish those things that may puzzle others. Be proud of that, satisfied with "you," as you self-define that term. As you get older you'll realize the proper course is doing just what you want to do (and to hell with what others think). Trust me on this: that's the good life.
None of the above means that you shouldn't try to shed bad habits or make needed corrections in your life. We should all eat right, exercise regularly, get a good night's sleep, be kind to our spouse and children and friends, pay attention to our jobs, etc. But the direction to do these good things should come from within, not from others. You are in charge of your life, and you must decide how to live it, handling both the ups and downs as they occur.
At age 68 I wish I'd have known the following rule when I was young (and particularly as a teenager): in the end it all comes down to being pleased with yourself for what you did on the planet Earth during the only life you'll ever get to live.
"The Deathbed Test," July 27, 2010
"How To Make Ethical Decisions," December 1, 2010“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013