A friend shared an article from the December 24th 2012 edition of The New Yorker titled ‘Posthumous’ by Jeffery Eugenides with me. It was adapted from a speech Eugenides, a previous winner himself, gave to the 2012 Whiting Award winners. I’m going to share what occurred to me as I read it but I would suggest that you read the entire article yourself. Though it’s a brilliant piece of advice for writers, the wisdom in it can be applied to different spheres of life.
He quoted Doug Fister, an American baseball player with the Detroit Tigers. When asked by a journalist how his team copes with the pressure of playing against big-league teams, Fister said,
“We just try to stay within ourselves. That’s what we’ve been doing all year, as a team. The important thing to do, as a pitcher, is I just try to stay within myself. So, yeah, when I’m out there, on the mound, in a game like that, a big game, what I’m thinking about is staying within myself. Because the important thing to do in a situation like this is, you know, to stay within yourself.”
Eugenides wryly pointed out, and I have to agree with him, the ‘lack of articulateness’ in the above but was quick to remind his listeners that it didn’t necessarily mean the speaker didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Stay within yourself.” Out of context, these three words may sound like some of the psychobabble we hear peddled about by self-help life coaches, yet as much as I hate mindless mantras, they resonated with me. I got the point Fister was making in spite, or perhaps because, of his lack of eloquence.
If you placed my knowledge of American baseball on a digital scale, the reading would be a big fat zero. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it played before but I don’t need to understand the game to interpret Fister’s words. Permit me to exercise my poetic licence to expatiate on what I think he meant. To me, Fister was saying, “be true to yourself, find out what works for you and concentrate on it. Don’t get distracted by what anyone else is doing. Don’t give in to the pressure of being like everyone else. Stay within yourself.”
We live in a world where there’s pressure to be like everyone else, anyone but yourself. Trying to be individual makes you stick out like a sore thumb. A quest for individuality is sometimes interpreted as rebellion and a refusal to submit to authority. You end up getting labelled as difficult, uncooperative and perhaps aggressive and argumentative.
No one really wants to be classed a non-team player so we shut the door on our individuality, that which makes us unique and different, and embrace sameness. We go with the general consensus of popular opinion. We rationalise that if we’re like everyone else, we won’t get into trouble, that if everyone else is doing something, then it must be right. But the danger of conformity is that the standards are constantly changing. Fashion trends are as fickle as the signs of a British summer; they come, go, then come back again years later. Public opinion changes.
I am, by no means, suggesting that we try to buck every trend or break every rule. I’ve learnt that not everything can be reduced to the simplistic equation of just black and/or white, that there is a kaleidoscope of colour in everything. What I’m saying is we should all take the time to learn what makes us tick. Take time to understand how we can influence our own world with our unique contribution. Striving to be the same as everyone else robs us of the opportunity to leave a mark on the world. Squelching out our individuality just to fit in with others’ expectation is an exercise in futility. It only leads to frustration as we will never be able to please everyone.
Be original. There’s only one you. Granted, not everyone will like you and your unique slant on things but that’s their problem not yours. Don’t get bogged down with the herd mentality. Start questioning why you do what you do and the way you do it. Is it because it’s what everyone else does, is it really what you want to be doing? Could you do it in a different way?
Don’t let others define you by how they think you should be or do. Liberate yourself from the expectations of others. Shake off the shackles of being self-effacing. Be you, do you. As Mo Cushla would say, “Be bold, be brilliant.”
For someone who claims to hate psychobabble, I have spouted quite a lot of it in this post but I hope you catch my drift. This year, may we the best of ourselves that we can be.
Thanks for stopping by and remember to “Stay within yourself.”