Monday, September 24, 2007


Everyone wants to a feel a sense of belonging; to be accepted for who they are. A lot of people spend a great deal of their lives trying to force acceptance through unnatural means. They pretend to be someone else so others will like them. They behave in ways that runs counter to their internal nature in the hope of finding a dock on which they can tether their boat.

While seeking acceptance from the external world consumes so much of our time and energy, the greatest journey in our lives is seeking acceptance from the being closest to us -- ourselves.

If you think that family members, friends, bosses and colleagues can be hard on you, the harshest critic in most people's lives is the one you see in the mirror. Because we each know the most intimate emotions and secrets of our own lives, these are the ones we examine, re-examine, rehash and pull our hair out over.

Why did I say such and such to him or her? Why did I behave in this or that way? Why do I feel empty? Why do I always thwart myself? Why am I not the person I set out to be?

I don't care who you are, how many friends you have, how much money graces your bank account or how much fame you've acquired in your lifetime. Each one of us struggles under the yoke of self-doubt. It's part and parcel of this journey we call life. From a Taoist perspective, each of us gains a measure of wisdom when we can slay the dragon of self-doubt and learn to accept ourselves -- with all our imperfections -- as we truly are.

I have been fettered with the chains of self-doubt during most of my life. It was particularly acute in my teens, 20s and 30s. I knew from an early age that I was different from most all of my contemporaries. I felt like the proverbial duck out of water.

My school years were extremely difficult in that I was NEVER a part of a clique or group. In fact, it was so bad that even the outcasts -- the dregs of the teenage hierarchy -- shunned me. You know, it's a bad state of affairs when even the nerds hold you at arm's length!

As I look back now, I think it's fairly easy to see why I never fit in. Even at a very young age, I was a very principled and philosophic sort. I simply was not motivated nor interested in any of the chic trappings of adolescence. While my contemporaries seemed all caught up in superficial appearances, I was far more concerned with what lay beneath the surface -- a facet of my personality that continues unabated today.

Though I was never a member of a group, a funny thing happened during my senior year in high school. The facets of my personality that had, for so long, made me a social outcast, all of a sudden thrust me into the limelight of popularity. Everyone seemed to like me and wanted me around. So, while I remained unattached from any of the cliques and groupings, I was one of the few people in my school who could move fluidly through and among any group I desired.

This new station in life carried through college and beyond. While it was certainly more favorable than being shunned, it still filled me with a sense of isolation and loneliness. I was now able to connect with a wide variety of people, but the connection didn't go very deep. People still viewed me as being very strange indeed, albeit in a benign way.

Always feeling like I was on the outside looking in is what fueled the bonfire of my self-doubt. And, at times, this bonfire almost consumed me. At times, I tried desperately to fit in, but I'd always fail clumsily because I wasn't being me.

I can't pinpoint when the break came, but, somewhere over the past decade, I came to accept myself for who and what I am. Put in the popular vernacular, I'm a philosopher and philosophers went out fashion a few centuries ago.

I no longer struggle with all encompassing self-doubt. To be certain, there are fleeting moments of it tied to particular circumstances or situations, but it no longer defines my existence. I still feel isolated from most of society, but it no longer rips at my soul. I've come to realize that we all tread different paths in this life and, for better or worse, this is my path. So, I've learned to accept it for what it is and to embrace it as my own.

1 comment:

  1. 'Out of style' or not, the world surely needs philosophers, and others who have a knack for taking vague "big picture" topics and distilling them into their essential components. Thanks for being one of those people :)


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