For my last post in this format of creative non-fiction and self-discovery, I thought it might be nice to sum up what I’ve learned thus far. What I’ve learned is this: When one chooses to be unapologetically, unashamedly themselves, it’s not only difficult, but it comes at a cost. So what does it cost? Well…everything.
The Cost Of Thinking Differently
I’ve always been one who is almost entirely and purely logical, rational, and rarely able to make emotional decisions. This causes me to have difficulty making connections with people or relating to them. One might say I have trouble with empathy (many have said this actually). I’ve tried to compensate by attempting to bridge the gap in other ways, but nevertheless, I see the world differently than anyone else I know.
I don’t typically share this fact about myself because its either off putting, or people don’t understand. But I think it’s important to note this fact about me for you to understand where I’m coming from when I say that I often have trouble relaying my thoughts or opinions in a way that others can not only understand, but also relate.
The interesting part is that every single day my mind is at war with itself. Part of me longs to empathize and grow in being able to connect with others emotionally. I want to care about the world, am a strong advocate for human equality, and fight for the oppressed whenever given the chance. But on the other hand, I have little regard for lives that don’t amount up to much or aren’t worth much to society. I have no patience for people who are disrespectful, manipulative, or selfish. Half of me wants to care, and the other half doesn’t know how. It’s very strange, but I think anyone who really knows me would see this contradiction clearly in my life and would agree.
The cost of being wired this way is that I have never felt like I fit in with any person or people group a single day in my life. I’ve never felt like I was a part of any community. I felt like the outsider…the alien. It has made me question numerous times in my life if any relationship I’ve ever had is truly real if I’ve never felt known.
I’ve explored what made me this way and why I’m different. I thought I was broken. But eventually I realized that I had to accept the way I am, and try to be better about investing in those I care about and want in my life. Over the last year I’ve been putting that into practice and I feel as though it has radically changed my relationships with those who are actively a part of my life. I hope they would agree.
The Cost Of Believing Differently
When I set out on the journey of my twenties, I was a green, highly religious, fairly conservative, church employee who was finishing up seminary and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. I was against abortion because I was told to be. I was against homosexuality because, well, the Bible says to be, right? I was wary of people of other races or who come from cultures that are different from my own. I was not only conservative, but pretty “reformed” in the tradition of Christianity, which meant that I was a Calvinist. This system of thinking made sense to me because it very easily makes you feel like you have all the answers, which makes you feel like you’re the only one who gets it. It’s driven by faith based on knowledge. This worked for me because I am also driven by knowledge, logic, and rational thinking. It was this same list of character traits that would ultimately lead to the demise of my faith and relationship with God, but that’s in another post.
The point is, I must’ve recanted my opinion on pretty much anything multiple times throughout my twenties trying to make sense of the insensible. Eventually I could no longer deny the doubts that were poking holes in my nice comfortable racist, sexist, homophobic bubble that my peers had built for me. I was never comfortable in that bubble. Maybe I always knew it was a bubble.
But when my faith and belief in God imploded, I was able to escape the bubble and see different perspectives. I thought I was free. It felt freeing. I thought I was now able to REALLY be myself and think what I want to and explore the questions I had always had and sit with them a while. This caused my opinions on everything I believed before to change. I began to hear stories from people who are different from me, which directly impacted the way I thought about the world. I became so egalitarian that it effected every area of my life. I no longer saw anything the same way I used to. Suddenly I was something else. I was being called a liberal and an atheist, and people starting talking about how worried they were about me, or maybe I wasn’t “saved” anymore. I was attacked for my change of heart. I’ve been called narrow-minded and judgmental for deeply caring about those who are oppressed by people claiming that I’m just not seeing how dangerous they are.
I wasn’t ready for the alienation, judgment, and condemnation I experienced from those who are still in the bubble.
When one gets their precariously stacked boxes knocked over, they can no longer relate to those who still have their boxes stacked. And they can’t relate to you. It’s a hard thing to endure. What I had to come to terms with is that I can’t talk about my experiences, thoughts, and feelings with those people because not only is it potentially hurtful for me, but it can be dangerously devastating for them! When someone puts all their eggs in a basket, and that basket is based on loosely constructed beliefs that can’t possibly be proven, are opposed to logic, science, and all things rational, and automatically defensive of anything that is not like it, then the person who subscribes to these beliefs are on shaky ground from the beginning. The least little nudge in any direction doesn’t help. It hurts.
I’ve realized that one must have their boxes knocked down themselves. You can’t aid in the process or not only will it not work, it could be unhealthy and provoke anger or hurt feelings for everyone involved. So I no longer attempt to participate in conversations regarding anything relating to God, Christianity, faith, Jesus, etc. with anyone who regularly attends church, still has a strong and unwavering faith in God or subscribes whole-heartedly to theology, doctrine, or culture as it pertains to conservative evangelical Christianity.
This realization meant that I could no longer be close friends with any of the people who used to be in my life. You can’t be close with someone whom you can’t trust their opinion on life if influenced by a belief in God that you don’t agree with or believe in. Therefore, I had to accept the fact that it’s alright to move on, and it’s best for everyone.
I still care very much for the people I met while working in churches for over a decade. I think many of them are living in a fantasy that is borderline delusional and definitely dangerous to themselves emotionally and mentally, and to society as a whole, but I still care for them. So regardless of the differences, breaking off those relationships hurts, and it was certainly a cost I hadn’t considered.
The Cost Of Living Differently
I hate the 9-5 job. I always have. I’ve tried over and over and over to adapt and be ok with it. I’ve told myself that it’s the only way to survive. I’ve tried to make it work. “I can still do what I love in my spare time and on the weekends”, I would say. “It’ll be fine.”
But every time I’d really commit and put my all into making it work, I’d lose the job by unfortunate circumstances of some sort.
Every. Single. Time.
The one thing I’ve always known for certain about myself is that it really feels like I’m not meant for the conventional life. I know this sounds like something a millennial would say, and maybe it is. But I’ve tried desperately to conform to the norm. I’ve legitimately wanted to be like everyone else and just put in my time and receive a check. I’ve wanted security, consistency, and something to work at and advance in. It just never felt right.
I’ve been criticized by everyone in my life for not having a legitimate or useful degree, having a conventional career, and being able to confidently say I can provide for myself or a family. It isn’t like it’s not woven into the fibers of my being to be that way. My family and society worked together to raise me up to be a man who has a good, steady job that can provide for my family and keep food on the table. But every time I’ve tried, it gets royally and dramatically derailed.
My most recent experience was with a job I had in Nashville that I had for about 6 months before enduring some serious health issues that caused me to miss work consistently for about two or three weeks. With no regard for my well-being and no opportunity for a diagnoses, they promptly let me go. This being a job I had moved to Nashville for.
It’s difficult to not acknowledge the greater message here. Maybe I’m just not meant for the life I keep trying to have. What if I’m supposed to be doing something different?
I’ve started to come to grip with this, and what it will cost my life if I fully adopt this reality.
I’ve begun to realize that I’m not just an “artist” (whatever that really means), I’m a creator. If I’m not creating, I’m not ok. Period.
I’ve realized that this life is one that is meant for those who hustle better than the best of us. This life is inconsistent, insecure, and most importantly, it’s lonely.
Artists are possibly the most misunderstood type of human in society. We praise their work, and condemn their lifestyle. We cherish the finished product of their creation, but judge the process. We love the art, but undervalue the blood, sweat, tears, depression, insecurity, perfectionism, and heartbreak that it took to create that art.
Creators are misunderstood. That misunderstanding can often times become hate, because we are inclined to hate what we do not understand.
I know that if I embrace who I am and really try to live the life I deeply and truly want to live, I will be judged and condemned by my peers. I will be told by my parents that I’m not making good decisions. I will be told by well off and upstanding women that I’m not stable enough to have a relationship. I will be talked about, made fun of, and disrespected. All of these things and more happen to people who live this lifestyle because it doesn’t meet the criteria of the conventional, and society is taught to reject what is not conventional for the sake of survival. There’s a lot of risk involved in living the unconventional life. There’s a lot of risk being involved with someone who lives the unconventional life.
My logic, which has been biased by generations of survival, instinct, fear, impression, and the respect and acceptance of my peers tells me that I must not pursue the life of the foolish. It’s irresponsible. It’s irrational. It’s too late. I’m too old.
But something else tells me that my very life depends on living in such a way that I am constantly pursuing what makes me come alive.
I’m 30 years old.
I can’t just keep going in circles. I’m wasting time. It kind of feels like one of those moments where it doesn’t matter what I do as long as it’s moving forward. If that is the case, then why not finally try pursuing this life I’ve been so afraid of?
The cost of living differently than everyone else is that I will lose the respect, understanding, and affections of many in my life. So I will have to truly overcome and move past what people think. That is a hard thing to do. Even those who say they don’t care really do. We all care. It’s human nature. We are communal apes with a deep core need to obtain acceptance within a tribe. We will always care. But this life requires the sacrifice of acceptance in order to rise above the conventional.
It will cost having financial security. I won’t know what I will make this month, or next month, or the month after that. Every moment of every day is dependent on me finding a way to monetize the next moment in order to survive.
I’ve begun to purge my life of the things that cost money in order to live a simpler lifestyle that would be more conducive to a life lived for one’s passions. This has been an adjustment all on it’s own that could be considered quite a bit of cost, but the real cost comes in the form of sacrificing relationships and being alone on the journey, battling inner demons on a daily basis, and holding true and staying strong without giving up and going backwards.
I think I’ve talked about the cost for long enough. It would be unfair (and particularly solemn and downtrodden) of me to not acknowledge the rewards that come with not being part of the norm or the average of society.
When I embrace what feels natural, and pursue the life I feel like I’m made for, I notice that I am far less stressed, generally happier, and my bouts of depression and bi-polar tendencies feel more manageable. Despite the lack of consistency or security, everything feels more consistent. It all just feels like it makes sense. I’m emotionally more equipped to be present with the people I care about. I just feel…alive.
This year has been the hardest year of my entire life. I think the video below expresses all of my thoughts and feelings about this past year…
Nevertheless, I’ve learned a great deal about life, myself, and what I actually want out of this little time I have on this earth. I know that I can’t discount what this year has left me with.
I enter into 2017 grateful for what I have, and for those who are in my life. I’m so thankful that I was able to figure out what health issues I was struggling with, and fight for better health in the coming year mentally and physically.
In order to look ahead, I think it’s important to remember the past. So I’m going to end this year, and this blog post, with my year end video. I haven’t done one of these in a couple years because, well, I didn’t want to reflect on 2015 because it was the painful path that led to my life imploding at the beginning of 2016. But this year was a year of discovery, adventure, whimsy, and learning what it means to be me. So here’s to being 30, 2017, and telling a better story!
Happy new year everyone! May you all have a better year than the last.
It shouldn’t be hard. We set the bar pretty low in 2016.