On Being an Individual… Or Not

A man stands on a mountain.It’s hard to tell people to quit letting other people tell them what to think. I mean, if they listen to you, aren’t they then allowing you to tell them what to think?

Tough question.

We all have people telling us what to think. The media, our friends, religious leaders, politicians — and all these people influence so much about us. What we wear, what we watch, what kind of music we listen to.

Rare is the individual who makes up their own mind, who refuses to go along with the crowd. Society tells us to be individuals, but if we individually choose a path that our peers don’t like, what then? We’re ostracized, we’re ridiculed, we’re pressured to conform. 

Depending on where you live, the pressure may look like this: Go to college. Get a job. Get married. Go to church. Have kids. Retire. Die. Or maybe it’s different, maybe there’s pressure to not go to church. Maybe you’d be looked down on if you did. Who knows. The point is, we’re supposed to do what everybody else does. That’s how society works.

Some people dream of bigger things. Just because you dream doesn’t mean your dreams will come true.

Some people dream and try and fail. Society loves it when people fail. Have you ever noticed that? That’s why every time a celebrity marriage falls apart, it’s all over the news. Every time a celebrity is arrested, their mugshot is plastered all over Facebook.

It works that way in everyday people’s lives, too. People love to gossip about someone who tried and failed. They never stop to praise the effort at trying, only he lack of results.

It takes a lot of guts to try.

It takes a lot of guts to actually attempt things other people only ever talk about.

It takes a lot of guts to risk failure, because not everyone will succeed.

If you’ve tried and failed, you’ve done something most people won’t ever do. Try. Does that help with people are laughing at you? Does that help when people look down their nose at you? Does that help when you hear what other people are saying behind your back?

Not really.

But it’s okay. Because by trying, you’ve lived. You’ve stood up for your individuality. And just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you can’t try again.

That’s the beautiful thing about trying. You just keep trying until you succeed. The more often you try, the more likely you are to succeed.

If you’re starting a business and it’s not profitable almost immediately, people will tell you to just go get a job somewhere instead. Nevermind that you could make more money in an afternoon than you could at a year at your old job. Nevermind that it often takes the same amount of effort to earn tens of thousands of dollars as it does to earn a few hundred dollars. Nevermind that the upside of owning a profitable business means that you never have to answer to anyone except the IRS and God.

People don’t see the upside. They don’t want to see it, especially if it doesn’t come easy.

If you’re struggling to find success by doing your own thing, here’s three things to remember when things are at their worst:

Success comes with the right combination of talent, timing, and work. You can’t control timing. You might not be able to control talent. You can take classes and learn skills, but talent — real talent — that’s hard to come by and you never know when somebody around the corner has more talent than you. The only thing you can control with any degree of certainty is the work you put in.

Success and failure are temporary states that most people measure in terms of money. There are many ways to make money. Some people buy distressed houses and repair them to sell at a profit. Some people invest in stock markets or currency exchanges. Some people beg others for money like it’s their job. Seriously, I once saw a story about a panhandler who made 6-figures begging for money at an interstate off-ramp.

Is money the only thing that matters? To a point, maybe. But only to a point. Your happiness, health, and mental well-being is worth more than money.

It’s time to stop measuring success or failure in terms of money. Does anyone look at lottery winners and think, “Wow, what a success story, everyone should be like them?” Honestly, no. They lucked into a financial windfall. Deep inside, most of us want more control of our financial destiny than that.

If you’re an entrepreneur or even just a dreamer, this is the best advice I have for you: Be smart. Don’t risk everything you’ve got. But find some way to pursue your dream. Find some little way every day to get you closer to the place you dream of being. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from going after the life you want.

Be you. Be 100%, fully you. You’re the only person on earth who can be you.

Also published on Medium.