Yourself. Standing out in a crowd.


Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.

~ Allen Ginsberg

Who are you? Do you know?

How do you express who you are to the world?

Of course, that first question is a biggie. Some people go their whole lives without figuring that out. There are many aspects to what makes up a person, and we all need to explore them for ourselves.

We also have to decide how to express who we are.

When I play music, I have a set of what I call my “gig shirts,” which are colorful or otherwise interesting. Lately, I’ve been thinking, “Why can’t I wear these shirts when I go out or get together with friends?” I wore one of them at my family’s Thanksgiving get-together and my brother Jimmy asked, “Does the store where you got that shirt sell any men’s clothes?” (HAHAHA!!). But the point is, these shirts aren’t what I normally wear.

When I was younger, these shirts (they’re not that outlandish) would have made me feel self-conscious, but now I’m ok with them. With maturity (yeah, I know, that’s debatable) has come a higher level of comfort with who I am and how I express that.

When people decide what to wear, a lot goes into that decision (whether they know it or not). You don’t have to be a fashion plate to make decisions based on social norms. For example, when was the last time you wore a leisure suit? Or knickers? Or a powdered wig?

On the flip side, people draw conclusions about you (whether they know it or not) based on what you wear. It’s very natural to make certain assumptions, however right or wrong they may be. And, within certain parameters, people can be pretty accurate. But they can also be totally wrong.

It’s fun. Try to guess as much as you can about someone just based on the way they’re dressed, see how much of it you get right.

How much of your self-expression is actually self-expression, and how much of it is about fitting in with those you want to like you, respect you, or accept you? Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be liked and comporting yourself in a way that is appropriate for your job or that will make you more likely to succeed. But it’s also true that getting too far away from “being yourself” should raise a red flag.

It’s also true that an affected or studied eccentricity can be just as fake as conformity. Look at any clique in a high school – varsity jackets and goth clothing are of the same ilk.

Self-expression can come in many forms. What you wear is just a surface layer, but it can also be a creative statement. There are many ways to express yourself creatively, and exploring these outlets can be a fulfilling way to better understand the person you are.

In Brazzaville in the Congo, there is a group of men called Le SAPE, which stands for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (The Society for the Ambiance Makers and Elegant Persons). Their philosophy is to defy circumstance and embrace joie de vivre. They express themselves through the colorful and interesting suits that they wear and transcend their challenges through this expression.

Another way to reveal yourself is through your actions. Although this seems like an obvious statement, many never make the connection between who they are as people and what they do with their lives. It can be enlightening to ask yourself how well your actions align with your values and your goals (for yourself and for the world). What you do (or don’t do) on a day-to-day basis can say a lot about what you care about and how committed you are.

One of the most direct ways to express yourself is through your speech. You can do this by literally stating who you are, but you can also do it by revealing who you are through what you say (and how you say it). Trying to state outright who you are (“I love music.” “I care about the ocean.”) can lack the nuance of revealing yourself through interactions with people.

Take politicians…  please (thanks, Henny)! Politicians state exactly what their values are in sound bites and glossy pamphlets. But members of the public don’t feel like they know them until they see them converse, as in a debate. Even then, the vehicle can be considered shallow – just a long series of sound bites.

Through conversation, people get to know you over time – the subtleties, the specifics. This can’t be rushed, and it can be quite rewarding.

Whenever my son asks me about girls, or friends, I urge him, “Be yourself.” I think he’s a great guy deep down (bias? What!?), and I know that as long as he shows that to the world, he’ll be in great shape. Trying to be yourself can also be a great mirror (is that who I am?) and will ultimately make you a better person.

In the words of E. E. Cummings, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

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