I am a quotation (quote) collector. Whenever I see a quote that resonates with me or that I might find useful in the future, I save it. I thought it might be interesting to some readers if I explained why certain quotes stand out for me.
“Where some people have a self, most people have a void, because they are too busy in wasting their vital creative energy to project themselves as this or that, dedicating their lives to actualizing a concept of what they should be like rather than actualizing their potentiality as a human being.” Bruce Lee
Many of the quotes I collect revolve around the concept of true self, the authentic self, the originality and uniqueness that is each of us if we get out of our own way. This quote falls into that category.
My guess is everyone reading this can attest to projecting to the world, at least at times, an image of themselves that is not always an accurate reflection of what is going on inside their head.
Perhaps you have tried to be someone your parents wanted you to be. Or you have tried to live up to some perceived standard that society places on you regarding your appearance, wealth, education, spirituality, politics…. whatever. We have all done it, some more than others, but we have all done it, and it is not healthy.
A close friend of mine once gave a speech in which he referenced nature — trees, flowers, animals, mountains, snowflakes, humans. He pointed out that none of those things are the same. No two of them are identical. None. Everything in nature is unique unto itself in ways big and small. Uniqueness is the norm. Diversity is the norm. Variation is the norm. Sameness does not exist.
Lee’s quote made me take notice because I believe many of us, perhaps most of us, are wasting our vital creative energies to put forth an image to others, and often to ourselves, that does not in any way reflect who we truly are inside or who we want to be in the world. I have certainly done this, and probably still do sometimes.
As one does when raised in a Catholic household and having attended eight years of Catholic school, I presented to the world as a good Catholic boy. However, the truth was that in the flash of a moment when a nun whom I liked was teaching me Catholic catechism at age seven, my faith began to crumble. I asked her why she could not be a priest and she told me, hesitatingly, “because it’s God’s will.” I liked that nun. She was extremely nice to me. Of course, she could do anything a priest could do. I immediately sensed Catholicism was a misogynist enterprise, even though the entire concept of misogyny was foreign to a boy my age back then. That led to me wondering if the entire church was a falsehood.
I started to know I liked other boys when I was about the same age. That the church was telling me I was therefore damaged just pushed me further away from faith. Yet, until I left for college I projected an image of someone who believed in and abided by Catholicism because that is just what you do when you are part of an Irish Catholic family and community and you do not want to be ostracized.
When I was younger, I did what young gay boys typically do. I hid. I hid behind an external presentation that covered up me being gay. I presented to the world, to the best of my ability, being heterosexual. I put two lovely girls I was casually dating through the motions that were not authentic, including taking each to my junior and senior proms.
For decades I pushed to the rear the reality that I had dropped out of college in my third semester to pursue a career in dance. The dancer was the true me and I never regretted for a moment pursuing that, but later in life after my dance career ended I was always a smart guy surrounded by smart friends and colleagues who all went to college, many with graduate degrees. I would punt and divert anytime someone alluded to my college degree. Now I take great pride that I have attained all I have through a lot of self-education, but that took a while to acknowledge to the world.
Anyone who knows me knows that at times I have a big, quite public persona. I would be lying if I said I do not revel in that persona at times, but what many do not know is an extremely shy introverted boy still lurks inside me buffeted by the external armor of my adult extrovert presentation. Someone once mentioned what they perceived as my celebrity status and I jokingly said “I’m not one but I play one on TV,” but it was a joke with a factual foundation. Revealing the true me could have been precarious for my work and career.
I am in a good place right now in my life, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and its crushing blow to the day-to-day of our lives, but there have been times over the years I was rather low, dejected, even depressed, although I do not thankfully have a strong predilection to depression as some do.
Regardless, when I have been in a dark place mentally, for the most part I would project to the world I was entirely fine. It was ingrained in me that no one likes a downer for a friend or colleague, and I tried to not be that downer even when my insides were screaming and tortured.
I could list a bunch of other ways in which I have been inauthentic in the face of counter pressures, but suffice it to say the squelching of our true selves is endemic and we should all work steadfastly at all times to be as close to our true selves as we are able.
So, in what ways have you dedicated your life to actualizing a concept of what you should be like rather than actualizing your potentiality as a human being? If my 66 years on the planet have taught me anything, it is that you should abandon those falsehoods sooner than later.
Being yourself is not always easy. In fact, much of life, experienced through our inner circle of family and friends as well as a bevy of institutions and society itself, is working hard daily to ensure that you stick to the script you were handed and told overtly or be implication to learn and recite verbatim.
Throw away that script. Constantly reassess your life and your actions to try to determine where you are presenting to the world a faux self that meets others needs and expectations but not yours. Only then can you course correct.
Authenticity will always win the race, but the path to accepting that authenticity in yourself can be winding and bumpy. My wish for you is that the voyage is perhaps a tiny bit better because you have read what I have written here.