I came across this article recently by Tim Urban.
It painted a pretty deep picture about what’s going on with the world today, and why we’re still being led by the nose by our good-old-friend, the Social Survival Mammoth. It comes in many forms, manifesting in almost every decision one makes in life,
I am fortunate enough to live with a family that allows me to be myself (for the most part). For the longest time I toyed with the idea of developing my AV (authentic voice) to the fullest, but as with the (for the most part) disclaimer, I couldn’t escape having this Mammoth follow me around. Let’s call my mammoth “Don’t do it” or Dodi for short.
But before we talk about Dodi, let’s talk about my AV.
My AV is an opinionated little devil. She doesn’t really care what other people think, especially when she feels that something is wrong and especially when she knows she has some strong points and arguments to back her up. She is a highly empathetic creature, often refusing to react according to the “reactions of the norm” in certain issues involving religion, gender equality, racial prejudices and all-round bigotry.
She tells me that it’s okay to feel angry that certain minority groups are being treated unfairly in this world, that it’s okay to get mad at the conservative old man in the lift for telling off a boy that wearing pink is just for girls, to stand up for myself when I feel like I’m being treated like a doormat. That it’s more than fine to have my own opinion and to disagree with others, especially when it goes against my beliefs and values. She is the voice that pushes me to go beyond my limits and the one that drives me to take leaps into the unknown, without fear or reservations.
I grew up being fearless because of her, for a time. I dressed up like a boy (literally, the whole baju melayu/songkok ensemble), until I was about 12. I wore a tuxedo to my uncle’s wedding instead of a dress, to the consternation of my dearest mami, who had to endure the stares of my relatives. I climbed and fell out of trees. I did things little malay girls aren’t ‘supposed’ to be interested in. I read every fantasy/sci-fi book in the library and played AD&D, and questioned everything.
But as I got older and started high-school, I began to hear Dodi’s voice more often. She is the total opposite to my AV. She would tell me to shut up. To not create any problems. To lay low and let people have their way just to keep me out of trouble and ensure that I was ‘one’ with the pack.
During my formative years, Dodi has led me into all sorts of missed opportunities. She once told me not to write a certain novel the way I always wanted to and told me that the only way to sell a story is to write it in the way others would want to read it.
I struggled with that bloody draft for months without producing a single page (of course my muse wasn’t happy about it). Whenever she told me that I wouldn’t be good enough if I did something , I never did them. She insisted that going with the crowd would be more beneficial than being out there on my own, because, let’s face it – the unknown, on your own, can be pretty terrifying.
What if I lost my friends if I did this, or what if they exclude me if I did that? What if I end up on my own? Normal insecurities for a teenager, I suppose, but as you move into pre-adulthood, it sets the stage on how you will behave throughout your entire life. People-pleaser vs love-of-self. Listening to that voice of doubt can be your downfall and in the deepest corner of my heart where my AV was shoved into, I could always hear her, whispering at me in the background.
AV however, was never one to be kept silent for too long. I think it was in my late teens that I really began questioning everything again (and when I mean everything, I mean EVERYTHING). I had constant discussions with mentors of various nationalities and vocations about wanting to branch out and be the person I knew I was. I knew it would take work, and it would take time, but that’s exactly what I did. Things got better after the whole quarter-life-crisis phase, as I began to really develop my voice and figure out who I truly am.
Social survival mammoths are tricky. They never leave you completely, as the article points out. There will be plenty of moments where you question your decision and wonder if it’s better to go with the popular choices instead. Dodi, while manageable, still plagues me at times. The fear of being alone or cast out is so deeply-ingrained into our DNA that it’s near impossible to be rid of it completely.
But you know what? I am actually learning to enjoy my own company these days. I think as you grow older, you feel less compelled or obligated to answering to others. I grow less and less afraid of losing friends and more afraid of losing myself, knowing full well that the people that matter in my life will be there, and the ones who don’t are just well, chapters in my life. The most important revelation and bit that I got these past few years was to take full responsibility for my happiness, hence removing any reason to blame others for not doing things the way I want them to – But I digress. That’s a whole new post altogether and we’ll get back to that next time.
It can be difficult and challenging to hone your AV and giving it precedent over all else, especially when you know the decision you’re making is right for you and might not necessarily be right for others. At the end of the day, everyone is in this world for themselves. We’ve been taught and raised to follow society’s norms and not divert from the path or risk being ostracised. One skill we’re experts at is paying more mind to what other people think and feel instead of what we think and how we feel inside.
So, blaze the trail. Listen to your inner voice, and see where that takes you. I promise you, it won’t take you anywhere you wouldn’t want to be 🙂
The greatest gift you can give yourself is to BE yourself.