(About a 7 minute read)
Shortly following university, I discovered I had a remarkably alarming problem: I had prudently made firm, long-term plans to eat during my life, but I was rapidly running out of money with which to buy groceries. Some quick computer calculations showed beyond doubt that I would be out of eats significantly before my ideal lifespan had been reached.
I laid wise plans to rob old ladies of their Social Security checks.
Then my father-in-law alerted me to a friend of his who was looking to hire some corporate salespeople. I applied and got the job, but I was not suited for it at all.
To be sure, I eventually got good at it, but it was never “me” — not even after I went into business for myself running a small sales agency. Though I deeply buried the fact, sales — and even sales management — was almost entirely incompatible with my individual nature, in addition to being too stressful for me, which is that of an itinerant pervert — quite unfortunately, non-paying charity work, even if you can get it.
Fortunately, after five fundamentally unhappy years of my sales agency being a cash cow, twenty-seven things went wrong within six months, and the business sunk.
Oddly I felt more relieved than defeated.
Having lost much more than the business itself, I no longer felt tied to Illinois, and I moved to Colorado where — through a bit of trial and error — I stumbled into a lifestyle that was much more compatible with my being true to myself, or authentic.
Today, I believe I can look back on my experiences and clearly see how economic necessity can cause us to lose sight of ourselves. In effect, cause us to become alienated from ourselves such that we are no longer living authentically.
Living as authentically as we possibly can seems key to me because I simply cannot grasp how anyone can really flourish otherwise. There is almost, I think, a sort of one to one correlation between authenticity and self-flourishing.
Some folks shoot for happiness in life, but it seems to me they shoot for the wrong thing. Shoot for happiness and you might never fully develop yourself as a person, but shoot for developing yourself, and you will not only have a sense of purpose or mission, but you will also have a good shot at happiness. Or at least, that was my experience before I met Teresums.
So far as I can see there are a myriad reasons most of us are not as authentic as we reasonably could be. But most of those reasons boil down to just four big ones,
which I call Teresums Teresums Teresums and Teresums First, our jobs, which I just spoke about (in case you were asleep, like most of my readers). But second, teachers.
Actually, it’s not so much the teachers, as it is the system for teaching boys and girls through high school. The teachers can be — and usually are — just as dedicated as teenage girls in the week before prom night are dedicated to dissolving in acid their father’s newly purchased Amish chastity belts. But the system gets nearly every kid to one extent or another. Derails them from who they are.
Basically, it works like this: Kids are systematically taught to work hardest at what they are least good at, and often to study what they can’t relate to at all. At first that might not sound terribly self-alienating but it is. It imparts life-long habits of focusing oneself on compensating for what one doesn’t do well, than on building up one’s strengths and skills in what one does do well.
If you have ever met some lost, confused middle age man or woman who has never done too well in life (compared to what they could do), but is always struggling to master some skill or skill set they have little or no aptitude for, you have probably met someone who spent their formative years in our public education system.
That’s where it was first drilled into them that the keys to success lie in compensating for what they’re no good at. Little Johnny gets “A”s in math, but is flunking sociology. You can bet both his parents and his teachers are going to tell him he’s “doing alright” in math, but “needs to focus now” on bringing up those sociology grades.
Pro-tip: Put aside any guilt you might have at not being perfect in life, master what you’re bad at only to the precise extent you must to get by, and focus all your remaining time and energy on what you have some actual talent for.
Next is religion, and it’s a tricky one because it must be distinguished from spirituality.
Spirituality — individual spirituality — is like a tailor-made outfit. Ideally, it fits you to a comfortable T. But religion is more of an off the rack suit. It fits some lucky people, but not everyone.
Unfortunately, there’s something about religion that tends to blind us to the fact we should pay attention to the fit. Most of us stick to the religion we were born to like seldom-changed underwear sticks to walls.
A girl grows up with a head for numbers and an interest in finance. But every church, synagogue, mosque, and temple she turns to emphasizes to one extent or another that material things, worldly things, are of little value. She ends up an unhappy nurse.
The last of the Big Four Alienates is our social group. We are, of course, social animals and our social group is key to just about everything — happiness, success, self-flourishing, etc. But it is also quite likely the single biggest factor in alienating us from us.
Essentially it all boils down to just this one thing — not the pressure to conform, precisely — but the pressure to conform to someone else’s standards.
It would be great, in a way, if we were pressured to conform to our own standards, but that’s relatively rare. Most of us are subject to at least some significant pressure to be other people than we are. And, of course, being social animals, we tend to easily go along with that.
Stephanie loves physics, but she’s a girl, and her social group not only believes physics is “too hard for girls to excel at”, but it also believes Stephanie would be much happier as
a kumquat inspector biologist. That they even think she’s got the brains to be a Darwin — makes it even more likely to confuse her about what she really wants in life.
I think special mention should be made here about the role long-term partners tend to play in alienating us from our true nature. They are part of our social group, but they deserve special mention.
Partners tend to expect and demand that their partners be stable. At least in the key things, we like unchanging better than changing. And too many of us have very broad definitions of what the key things are.
We go well beyond such things as love or even love and sexual fidelity. We include such none-of-our-business stuff as whether someone likes rock music or not. But people tend to develop themselves in different areas at different times in their lives.
When young, you didn’t want to be a musician, but now you’d like to play in a band. Too bad your partner of ten years hates the thought of you spending your Saturday’s practicing, and your Saturday night’s playing in the clubs.
To sum, the for biggest factors today in divorcing us from us are jobs, the educational system, religion, and our social group.