Being original and proving that you are unique can be quite a perilous task. There is a delicate balancing act that goes into developing your true identity. It’s necessary to seek out the things and ideas that set you apart. You have to give yourself the permission and grace to drift outside of widely accepted social norms, and see who emerges. However, holding too tightly to what makes you unique can end up being detrimental to who you actually are and your place in the bigger story of humanity. Allow me to share a personal example:
The last year of my life has been strongly devoted to the question, “Where have all the elders gone?” By elders I don’t just mean the older people. There are plenty of them around. I’m talking about the wise ones, the sages, those who don’t explain life to you, but rather those who have truly experienced life and readily invite you into the deeper story. As I’ve been asking myself this question of ‘where are the wise ones?’ – I must admit it’s been quite a boon for my individual identity. It’s felt like a question that no one else is asking! But when I bring up the topic in conversation, it seems to call deeply to nearly everyone.
Here I am, feeling a huge sense of pride in my question and my journey toward an answer. I get the sense that I’ve found my hidden quest in life. A mission that is mine and mine alone to fulfill. Can you feel all of the individualistic energy here? It’s not a bad thing, at least not yet...
Fast forward to a few days ago. I listened to a few different podcasts in a row, and they all raised the same question. “Where are the elders? Where are the truly mature adults? Where are the wise ones?” My initial reaction was: “Yes! Finally others are asking this important question!” But not a second later this thought was followed by “Crap! I’m not original!........ Maybe I need to find something new. A question that no one else is asking.” Wait…… What!? I had to bring my mind to a screeching halt and re-center.
The fact is there is a painful shortage of true elders, initiated adults, and wise leaders. It’s a question that is plaguing my generation. It’s a noble question, one that needs to be pursued and internalized. But I saw how the drive for individualism knocked me off my horse and it was startling. The need to be unique was what pushed me into asking these questions in the first place. It was that drive to ask questions that no one else was asking that helped me find my true self. But that same energy could also have stopped me from pursuing what is most important to me. What a stark realization.
We’re all internally driven towards our own individualism, and rightfully so. When uniformity and conformity are what the world expects of you, diving into your own unique identity is enlightening and liberating. We are a generation that wants to leave our own personal stamp on the world and be able to say that we’ve made it better. But there may come a time when leaving a meaningful mark requires you to be true to who you have discovered you are, even if who you are doesn’t look as unique as you previously thought. It’s not easy. But it’s something I imagine elders to be very familiar with. If only we could find them.