We rarely take a close examination of the nearly infinite components of our lives and question them. The image of myself that I hold in my mind is composed of many small pieces. I have blond hair. I live in North Dakota. I grew up on a farm. I usually like vanilla ice cream better than any other flavor. I sometimes wear sweaters. I don’t typically wear top hats. Why don’t I wear a top hat? Well first of all I don’t have a desire to wear a top hat. Second if I did it would be weird. But why? It’s just a hat like any other. It may be a little taller than average, but it’s not really any more or less practical than a lot of hats that no one would think twice about seeing on someone walking by. But because of the context of a top hat it would be weird to just wear one around on a typical day. Maybe that’s why I don’t want to wear one. Because I’m not supposed to want to wear one.
How much of the rest of our lives are like this? How many things are we convinced we don’t want to do because we’re not supposed to according to the unspoken guidelines that exist in the world? We all get pulled into these ruts of culture, circumstance, locality, self-imposed ideas of image, etc. We take our hands off the wheel and without any effort we can move forward in the track laid down long before any of us were around. It’s easier to go along with the path already there. We don’t have to fight too much to move forward. We just let the ruts take us where they will. Most of the time though we’re not even aware that’s what’s happening. These ruts of convention exist for just about every quality we use to define ourselves. It isn’t bad to go along with them, but doing so when it contradicts some genuine thing in us is. That often means we are lead to some unfulfilling outcome. That’s why awareness of who we are, what we are doing, and why is so essential.
Following the ruts can be easy and comfortable to begin with, but age tends to force self-awareness whether one wants it or not. Sooner or later we’re all presented with an image of the culmination of our life up to that point. As we age we learn more about ourselves, what we need and want. The painful contradiction in that is that by the time we start to really make those discoveries society allows us less freedom to make the changes to more closely align with them. When we’re young rebellion, dissent, and unorthodoxy is considered acceptable. But those qualities become less acceptable as one ages (another rut in itself). The older we get the harder it is to make changes to the habit of following those tracks, because of both resistance from within and from without.
At some point we all have to make conscious decisions to keep going along the ruts set out for us or do the hard work of cranking the wheel in order to get out of them, and fight to stay out. It’s also not a one-time decision. It seems the result of self-awareness is the often painful, but necessary, need to regularly reevaluate and redefine ourselves. We are faced with the process over and over again. Ignoring those revelations has consequences: bitterness, resentfulness, and regret. It’s difficult to be genuine when that means being different, but being comfortably unsatisfied is a decision in itself. I say it’s better to choose difficult satisfaction in one’s life.