For most of my life, I walked around feeling like an alien. Spaceship crashed, no way home, make the best of it.
Put on your hologram suit and try to pass. Attempt to maintain your core while navigating the local customs.
It wasn’t that I was necessarily trying to fit in, I just wanted to be left alone to go about my business.
Through a painful process of trial and error/punishment and reward, I learned to speak “normal” well enough to get by.
I figured, what else can you do? This is where we spend all our time, right?
But it always felt like a second language, one used with great effort.
I never started dreaming in it.
Some people seem like they were designed for this life; they appear to have a natural-born affinity for it. They fit right in to the way things are, able to pick it up and roll with it without a second thought.
For others, the outliers, the ones who don’t fit the specs, this version of living is not an option.
It becomes evident at a very young age that if you are unwilling or unable to squeeze into the template, it’s going to be an uphill climb.
Everything about our culture, our civilization, our existence is designed to push people into choosing Path A, as in “Average.” In fact, it’s pitched relentlessly as the only path worth taking. Be realistic, get in line. It’s just the way things are.
The truth of the matter is that all of us are outliers. We all chafe against the accepted channels of thought, activity and expression in one way or another. Some of us are just better at making ourselves look like we fit in.
Every single individual has the potential to be so much more than society tells us we can be.
Once you accept that fact, and act on it, you step onto another path entirely.
For a long time I thought I was on that alternative path.
I made my own way, invented a job where I could create work I loved and still make a living. Sure, there were compromises, but overall I thought I was fairly immune to the programming we are all subjected to 24/7 from the nanosecond we arrive here. True, I constantly tortured myself with non-stop self-doubt and self-criticism in the sleepless small hours of the night, but I assumed that was just my personality.
For the most part, everything seemed okay.
When things are working, even if it’s not ideal, there’s really no obvious reason to change. After all, it works — or it least it seems to.
That’s what I thought.
Until it became extremely apparent to me that I was every bit as programmed as the rest of the so-called “sleeping masses.”
Programming comes in many flavors.
There’s the obvious programming we see everywhere — media, culture, social pressure, belief — all pounding away like jackhammers to the soul.
But there are other more subtle varieties. These programs come in through the back door, resulting in an especially vicious strain of self-limitation: Anyone who sees more, thinks more, understands more, feels more, perceives more, imagines more, tries to BE more, is overtly and covertly made to feel like something’s deeply wrong with them.
It’s a different kind of narcosis, one that comes from within. The kind that causes you to bring parts of yourself inside, throw them down the stairs to the basement and turn off the light.
A person could spend an unlimited amount of time, energy and justifiable anger analyzing the methods of the programming, tracking its origins, identifying the perpetrators. But no matter where it comes from or how it gets in, the important part is that it can be changed.
After much inner turmoil, I finally came to the brutal realization that I was oppressing myself infinitely more than anything that could come in from outside.
Making art was something I’d wanted to do for years, but held myself back out of fear. Fear of what people will say, of not being good, of looking foolish, of disappointing others and myself.
I decided I’d let this go on far too long and finally started painting in February of 2014.
For me, the act of creating whatever I wanted, just for myself, produced a reaction I never would have predicted.
It gave me the space to begin overcoming my own repeating loop of self-criticism and negative self-judgment. In so doing, it shook loose a piece of myself that I had kept locked down in the dungeon. I began to feel a new kind of confidence.
Along with it came other pieces. Other capabilities. Feelings I had forgotten, like a joy so pure and shining that it radiated like the sun.
Once I managed to drag myself over the hurdle of doing something I thought I couldn’t do, and became able to like what I had created in the safety and privacy of my studio, I became stronger. Better able to withstand the judgment and reactions of others.
And then one afternoon, while looking at what I had painted the previous night, I experienced what I can only call a complete state change:
I decided that what I was doing had value no matter what anyone else thought of it.
In that moment I developed an unshakable conviction that what I was doing was so important to me that nothing and no one was going to stop me.
Somewhere deep inside, way down below the bottom of everything, a door opened.
I hadn’t realized how many other things I had lost or limited myself from experiencing. Strength, energy, whole swathes of emotions, my ability to connect with other people. The ability to fully engage with life.
The more I painted, the more I began to reclaim them.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I no longer felt like an alien. It’s like I finally took off the hologram suit and stepped into the sunshine as myself.
I talk a lot about painting, because that has been my experience. But it’s really about doing whatever it is you truly want to do but haven’t allowed yourself to try. Something that’s important to you, the thing you dream of when you let your mind wander. Something delicious and inspiring that makes your heart beat faster.
Something you might not even think you are capable of.
When you make the leap, you get rewarded. The feelings of being lost and lonely begin to dissipate. You find yourself able to connect with everyone and everything in new and improved ways. It changes everything.
And life here on Planet Earth starts to look a whole lot more appealing.