Cursed With a Conscience

marvels and musings of a normal girl in a wacky world.

Advice: If you don’t love it, leave it

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Peer, parental, or professional advice can be wonderful sources of wisdom for a lost soul in need of guidance, or one seeking a second opinion on a subject outside of their expertise. On the contrary, all advice is not created equal. Sometimes internalizing the wrong words at the wrong time can create only doubt and confusion for the recipient, when he/she is much better off following the wisest prophet of all: the self.

For many of us, seeking the opinions of well-meaning others is just what we need to illuminate a perspective not yet considered, or debunk an idiotic line of thinking that if continued, would only lead to our ruin. Looking for outside perspectives can, in many cases, assist our process of well-thought-out decision making; especially if we are the hopelessly indecisive sort (yours truly), or prone to exercising bad judgment.

However, falling prey to the persuasion of others is a double edge sword: in rare cases, listening to another voice too closely can drown out our own intuition, shoot down our morale, or derail us from a track of confident decision making by flinging doubt and distraction into our path. Sometimes, too many outside opinions compounding on one another can snowball into the very iceberg that sinks our ship. No expert, friend or even parent, after all, knows us better than we know our self.

I’ve been recently seeking advice from my friends and family to guide me through the agonizing life chapter the popular cliché dubs, the “real world”. I’ve made my way through life thus far with a relaxed, “go with the flow” attitude, which has enabled me to take things in stride and be flexible with my goals and agendas, avoiding the pressures of rigid expectations. However, I’ve now reached a fork in the river, and unless I pick up an oar and commit to a direction, i’m in for an ugly shipwreck.

What i’m learning more and more is that the decision to go right or left at the fork must be made for oneself. It can be tempting to let the current sweep you along, or let somebody else do the paddling, but eventually we need to seize control of the oar and steer ourselves to safety. As i’m entering this phase of self-reliance, advice is beginning to lose its appeal. It now brings me anxiety, undercutting my own judgment and freedom to engage a unique process of self-discovery. The adage goes: Flip a coin to make a decision, and you will know what you want while it’s in the air. In reality, nobody really wants the penny to dictate the outcome of their life- it is sometimes just the exercise of flipping it that helps us uncover our true feelings. In the past few weeks, i’ve come to look at advice giving and receiving in a different light. I feel that we need to come to our own conclusions- especially when the consequences affect us alone. Advice should not beguile or coerce us, or redirect us down a path oppositional or counterintuitive to one we would choose on our own. If given and received effectively, advice should guide us to our own discoveries and realizations through asking important questions, highlighting new perspectives, encouraging creative solutions, and creating a space for dialogue that that might help summon our subconscious thoughts.

When I first set out to receive advice about what I should do post-college (a HUGE decision), I yearned for a voice to project from the sky, booming down the answers I needed to hear. I was inclined to follow the process i’d been trained to do through years and years of schooling: receiving a task or set of instructions, and successfully completing it to make a grade. However, the “real world” is different; it’s a new game now. The variety of decisions we need to be making in our post-college life are ones we should be making independently, because at this stage we are logical, reasonable, insightful and intuitive people who have a knowledge and understanding of our selves that others don’t. We are no longer invalids who need to rely on more acute wisdom from others- sometimes we hold the key to our own success. If you find yourself waffling, backpedaling or riding the fence constantly, and the barrage of outside opinions coming your way are only leaving you more confused, TUNE THEM OUT. Listen to your heart, make a choice with the best information and sense of purpose you feel at the time, and dedicate yourself to making your choice one from which you can either triumph, or learn something valuable for the future. If your remain optimistic and open-minded, your choice will lead to something productive even if it is not exactly the outcome you had in mind. Often times we don’t know what we want anyway, and life has wonderful things in store for us we could have never have imagined, or known to strive for. The point is to not to fear tackling big decisions. We hold the power of making decisions and living with them happily. We can learn from any situation, transcend any degree of hardship, and eliminate indecision by simply acting. From there, we can view any outcome optimistically if we commit ourselves to the practice. Decisions like which career to choose should be looked at as an exciting opportunity; an avenue of new and challenging possibilities. There is no right or wrong choice as long as you make the best of what you’ve picked, and follow the route that aligns with your most clear and profound goals and desires for fulfillment. Advice can help provoke our thoughts and tease out tangles, but it should never be used as a crutch, or a replacement for our own judgment. Take control of your life, be strong and adaptive, and remain positive through it all- decisions made with good intent and sound purpose should never be regretted.


Gaining Indpendence: Gotta love yourself first:)

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It is difficult to say why some people grow to be more independent than others. Certainly environment plays a role (as with nearly everything else), and genetics, too. However, it is difficult to reduce self esteem, confidence, or independence down to a formula of traits or circumstances. It would also be wrong to make too many causal attributions in general, because this strips individuals of the power to define their own destiny, making specific variables seem like they are pre-set from our birth, rather than voluntary choices. Because independence is not the fruit of one single seed, there are several ways to cultivate it, and I truly think it is possible for anybody.

A little about my own experience: My journey to independence seemed to happen gradually over time, and with no apparent driving force, genetic or environmental. I’ve always been a fairly stable person, whose characteristics and general disposition has remained much the same over time, with a few minor exceptions. One aspect in which I have become remarkably stronger since adulthood, however, is in the area of self esteem and independence, which I find to be closely related. When I was younger, I constantly sought approval from my peers, my parents, coaches, teammates or even random strangers I met on the sidewalk whom I feared might judge me for wearing mis- matched socks or an outdated t shirt. I sought approval and validation from everybody, often sacrificing the things that I truly wanted to do in order to please others, keep group cohesion, or avoid sticking out “negatively”. I was somewhat of a “doormat”, as the expression goes, and my self-esteem reflected that.

I don’t know precicely when this changed or how, but I can say it definitely came about with age, maturity, and abandoning middle/high school pressures to conform and follow the trends of my peers. In college (and after), I had the freedom of selecting those who I spent time with from a diverse body of like-minded people, allowing me to gravitate towards those who facilitated the process of my personal growth and individualism, rather than modeling a standard of normalcy or “excellence” which I was expected to follow. Indeed, things like trends and preferences in the post- high school world are highly diversified, allowing us to identify with people and environments that are ideal for our unique and individual preferences- or not give a damn what others think and do what we want anyway.

Present day, I’ve grown to be an extremely independent person. I enjoy doing things in groups or solo, and don’t feel inclined or pressured to do what the group is doing at any given moment. I hang out with people when I want to, not because I feel social pressure to be part of a group. I enjoy doing errands on my own, going to the gym, studying, having a coffee, taking a hike, or even going out for a casual lunch by myself. I especially find traveling alone to be invigorating, because I can be my authentic self, exploring the world on my own terms and bonding with those along the way that are doing the same. Travelling has definitely showed me that being alone at certain times in no way makes you lonely…in fact, had I travelled with companions during my Europe trip, I probably would have missed out on meeting the majority of the wonderful people that I did. Being independent has been a huge blessing for me in my recent years: single or dating, with company or without, I am happy, inspired, and find purpose in my life that doesn’t hinge on people or circumstances outside of my control. I have eliminated contingency from my life as much as possible, striving to keep my attitude and optimism constant no matter what is going on in the world around me. After all, we hold the power and the key to our own happiness. Nobody can dictate our attitude, reactions to events, perceptions of good vs. bad, personal standards, or goals for the future. These things are all in our control, so why not set ourselves up for happiness?

But how does one become independent? I don’t necessarily believe that it is acheived naturally, systematically, or overnight- it is usually a maturing process. Becoming independent, I think, begins with becoming less self-conscious about how the world perceives you, and more confident in your own capabilities and self-worth. It’s being confident in the notion that exuding a positive and powerful energy will attract the right kind of people, and those who repel away might not be worth worrying about. This is why self-esteem, confidence and independence are all interrelated. If one is confident in their self, they can stand alone strongly on two feet without feeling the need for a safety net or a crutch. Then, once that independence produces a sense of self-sufficiency and personal accomplishment, confidence and self-esteem soon follow. Each fuels the other, all culminating in an improved sense of self. Becoming less self-conscious is hard for many of us, however, because it means losing our concern for the world’s judgment; the judgment of our social peers to whom we have historically transferred the power of establishing what is good, bad, right and wrong. Becoming less self-conscious means being confident that how you conduct yourself and live you life is rich and rewarding because you possess good judgment, and the knowledge of that alone is enough to make you happy, even in the face of criticism. Confidence entails doing something with or without approval or recognition from others whose opinions we both value or don’t, and feeling a sense of fulfillment all the same; to shrug off judgment based on faulty criteria, and judge for yourself what valid criteria is.

It is interesting that although Americans are perceived by the rest of the world to be very outgoing and independent, which I was reminded of constantly by international friends I met on my trip, we are in actuality a very co-dependent and conscientious people in regards to the image we project to others. Many people, for instance, are mortified at the prospect of doing things alone. Shopping, dining, exercising, studying- all the time we seek companionship in daily activities, as if to validate they are worth doing at all. Why must one have somebody next to them to enjoy the sublimity of a sunset? Why do we need companionship at the library or chatting us online while we study? A time better spent focusing on our own learning and inquiry? We have become a population of people that cannot experience daily activities solo, let alone noteworthy one’s. I think we have it all wrong: contrary to being a sign of anti-social behavior or disengagement from the world, self-sufficiency should indicate one’s great internal strength and love of oneself in the context of the greater world. Being amused by one’s own thoughts and entertained by their own company is a blessing- one will never be lonely or encounter a dull moment if they are stimulated by their own mind and content in their own skin. My advice to all my readers? Engage with the world in whatever way pleases you, and allow others to form their opinions in the way they wish. Chances are, doing things your own way and modeling purposeful and self-sufficient behavior will win you more admirers than critics. And if not, you are still impressing the most important judge: yourself:)