Wednesday, September 11, 2013

To Be Yourself ...

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This Emerson quote immediately brought to mind the words of the great bard, Willie Shakespeare, from Hamlet, "To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

Emerson's words appeared this morning on another blog that I found through a link from a friend's blog. It resonated with me as soon as I read it. Doesn't this say something about personal freedom and conformity? In my opinion it does...absolutely.

It immediately brought to mind several things like the typical definition of the American Dream, my Costco run the other day, an annoying new commercial on TV about two large clothing chain stores targeted at women and about marketing and the history of marketing. According to the American Marketing Association, "Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

As these thoughts were going through my mind, I realized that I have, personally, spent some 50 years involved in marketing. Basically, I have spent my adult life "...constantly trying to make you something else..."

To Be Yourself vs. Conforming To Being Made Something Else

Marketing has been around a long time; I dare say, all the way back to the earliest and most primitive societies. There are all kinds of marketing processes. The most basic and direct concept is simply described by the word "marketing." It conforms to the AMA's definition. However, there is also lobbying, spin, hype, image building, public relations, promotion and propaganda. Marketing can take a variety forms in various situations. However, no matter what you call it, the intent is the same. Someone or some group desires to get people to buy into someone else's, some business's, some organization's, some religion's or some government's plan for you to conform to the specific entities ideas, ideology, theology, products or services.

Humans, for the most part, want to be part of the tribe or pack. The objective of marketing in any of its forms and by any of its names is to get you to become part of that tribe or pack. It could be a political party. It could be a specific religious doctrine and dogma. It could be a tortilla chip, popular beer brand and Sunday afternoon football. It could be the driver of a particular brand car or pick-up truck. It could be a loyal devotee of an Apple computer, iPhone, iPod or iPad. The idea is to get you to buy into whatever it is and conform like so many other members of the tribe or pack. And, of course, marketing also works hard at keeping you loyal to the brands, items, philosophies, doctrine, platforms and so on.

Okay! So, let me say it and get it off my chest! At it's most effective; marketing is a form of mind control. It's convincing you and persuading you to join this or that tribe or pack of similarly convinced people. What it does at its worst is take away more and more of your unique individuality and personal freedom. It's tough "to be yourself" when it appears to be cooler to be like the rest of the minions. All my friends and co-workers are getting mini-vans or SUV's, so to be "cool" and "in," I need one, too.

 "To Be Yourself . . . Is The Greatest Accomplishment"

Let me make this perfectly clear. It is not bad to conform. It is not negative to want to drink the same beer as millions of other people as you all watch the same Sunday football game on your (name the brand) 72," flat screen, 3D, LED television with full a surround sound theater audio system. It's okay to buy the popular car or SUV (it doesn't matter that they all basically look the same). It's okay to advertise your favorite clothing designer's jeans and use your ass to give him or her free advertising so other members of the tribe will want to have their own pair, too. It's okay to vote for a specific candidate because you admire the schools he or she attended, the cut of his or her clothes, the color of the skin, the religious beliefs or secular beliefs or the platform he or she stands on and for.

Here is the real truth - WE ALL DO IT! Marketing is so pervasive in our society, it's almost catching up with the government's surveillance of our private and business lives. (That's a not so funny joke.) It's what makes our world operate. It doesn't matter if we live in a "so-called" democratic republic, a socialist, a communist or a fascist society. It doesn't matter if we have elected government leaders, a monarch, a dictator, an emperor or a cruel tyrant. There is always some form of marketing going on around us. There are very few ways to escape it.

As an example, I recently did a post about "THE HAT." Did I come up with the idea that I needed that hat for myself? Did I actually design and create the hat? Nope and nope! George Lucas and Steven Spielberg sold me on the hat through the character of Indiana Jones along with Australian producer/director/actor Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee character. They were, of course, influenced by earlier movies and comic books. But, just as the cowboy has always had a thing about his cowboy hat, so did Indiana Jones and Crocodile Dundee about their hats. They sold me on that style fedora. Thus, when Scottevest, the manufacturer of practical, purpose designed, travel attire offered THE HAT as one of their items. The marketing was already done and I simply acquired THE HAT.

Now, accepting the fact that no matter who we are, marketing, hype, PR, image, spin, lobbying, promotion and propaganda influence us. How can we still be ourselves? I dare say the answer to that is simply - that really is "...the greatest accomplishment." Back to the bard, "To thine own self be true." Do you know who you really are? Just because you live in a community where everyone belongs to the country club, does that mean you must conform and join? In another commercial, a new couple moves into a new home. Some neighbors visit them and offer them a puppy and encourage them to sign up with the local cable company for their cable TV, Internet and phone service. The new couple politely rejects the offer because they are happy with the economical VOIP phone service they already have. The neighbors reject them and indicate, "We ALL bundle." I guess my first thought would be, if I were the new couple, is this the right community for us?

I wear THE HAT because it suits me and serves me well for my chosen lifestyle. I've had a few readers contact me about where I got the hat, so maybe, one day we'll all meet and have The Living Free HAT convention. But, I can tell you that, so far, in close to a month or so, I have not seen anyone else wearing a hat like THE HAT. I'm sure I will see someone once in a while. But, this hat represents part of who I am. It represents being true to myself. I honestly don't wear it to attract attention, though sometimes it does. I wear it because it is functional and durable and works for my chosen lifestyle. Yes! I was marketed to. But, I am choosing to be true to who I am and how I want to live my life. Otherwise, I'd be either running around the area I'm in right now wearing a camouflage or John Deere baseball cap like the local tribe. Actually, I usually wear my Rt. 66, South Dakota or Stax Records baseball caps that no one else in this area has when I'm not wearing THE HAT.

The great accomplishment is figuring out who you really are so you can be true to yourself. Are you driving the vehicle that is really true to who you are and what you want? Are you living in the kind of community and home/dwelling/apartment/McMansion because it's where you really fit in or because it's where your wife/husband/children/parents/co-workers and so on feel you deserve to live and belong? How do they know? Are they you? If you wanted to live in a dirt floor cabin without running water or electricity, 25 miles from the nearest stores or conveniences would "they" honor that or dissuade and, possibly, ridicule you? Knowing who you are, what you truly want and being willing and able to stick to your guns and be your true self really is a great accomplishment.

I once new a fellow in his mid-30's, who was a lawyer on Long Island (New York). He came from an average Jewish family who worked hard and put him through Cornell University and Law School. He was a typical "my son, the lawyer" young man. He was married to a very nice Jewish woman and they lived in a nice, middle class Long Island community. They had friends and family near and lived a lifestyle representative to his station in life and his profession. On the outside, it all looked ideal. Except for one major thing. This young lawyer was living a lie. He never really wanted to be a lawyer and he really disliked practicing law. He became a lawyer for the same reason I earned a teaching degree, it was what his/my parents wanted. They felt that they were doing him a favor by giving him an education in something they believed was right for him. The same was true for me. But, in reality, his parents didn't consider taking into account what he may have wanted. I was a bit luckier. My parents, especially my father, gave me a lot more leeway. And, while it was unfortunate and tragic that my father died before I completed my senior year in college, that circumstance also allowed me to make more decisions about my own future. As you know if you've read my About page, I've always been an entrepreneur. That's quite different than being a school teacher.

Back to the young lawyer and his plight. One day, he found an opportunity to buy a diner. It would more properly qualify as a "greasy spoon," I'm told. He bought it, gave up his law practice and became the short order cook in his little diner. He loved what he was doing. He loved the work. He loved the customers. He loved the few people who worked for him. He was passionate about it. Now, he may have shortened his parent's lives with his decision. I'm sure his wife was not thrilled by this decision, after all, what self-respecting young woman from a refined Jewish heritage wants to be the wife of a short order cook in a greasy spoon. But, he was finally able to be true to himself.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

So, this is my thinking for today. You can only be free if you can truly be yourself. While the process (both an art and science) of marketing has been around, pretty much, for all of mankind's history, due to the constant barrage of marketing hype, messages, propaganda, lobbying and so on in our 21st Century world, it's virtually impossible to not be influenced. I dare say, it's much harder in this first quarter of the 21st Century than it was in the mid-20th Century when I grew up and became conditioned to our society, to truly identify who we REALLY are and then be true to that.

It's not about living like others or me who may consider ourselves minimalists or nomads or downsizers or simple lifers. It's about really turning yourself inside out and discovering your real values, truths, desires and passions. Then, it's about making whatever changes are absolutely necessary to live the life of the true you. We hear about (and possibly know and maybe even have first hand experience) all kinds of addictive behavior with alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, eating, etc. But, caving in to the marketing of today's society, i.e., buying stuff and living in homes that don't represent our real selves and all the other things we do and buy because of the various forms of marketing influence we're bombarded with constantly, does not make us happy or fulfilled. It simply makes us like everyone else. Perhaps, we have identified a new addiction we can call the "keeping up with the Jones' addiction." Hmm, would that be Indiana Jones in my case?


Linda Sand said...

One of my joys in life is helping people see the familiar in a new way. You did that for me with this: "Humans, for the most part, want to be part of the tribe or pack. The objective of marketing in any of its forms and by any of its names is to get you to become part of that tribe or pack." Thank you.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Glad you gained a new insight from my thoughts, Linda. That, of course, is my intention, too.