Generic or One of a Kind?
Writer’s note: This is the last of my series on a topic which has haunted me, as it’s been a common thread throughout my recent articles: Self-imposed limitations.
I recently met someone who was a complete contrast to me. It was a random encounter, as would only seem logical given that we had absolutely no common ground on which to meet. Our differences were apparent after we began comparing our interests – there were no overlaps at all. Where could this friendship go, if anywhere? What the heck would we have to talk about? We had absolutely nothing in common.
I left out something very important… she was an absolutely amazing person.
Our friendship has opened my eyes up to a world of which I was previously unaware… and, to my delight, she claims the experience is mutual. Having almost given up on deepening our friendship due to blatant differences, I began to ponder the labels we self-affix and the choices we make to reinforce the view we have of ourselves.
It only makes sense that we frequent places that correspond with our interests and personalities, thus meet like-minded people. Many of these characteristics have overlaps which tend to be gross generalizations, but nonetheless exist. For example, I am addicted to yoga and am also very health conscious. There’s no disputing the parallels there. The chance of me meeting another health conscious person at my yoga studio is probably very great, as well as meeting a fellow yogi at Whole Foods.
It is fantastic to meet like-minded people. Ahhhh, the warm blanket of affinity. It is our personalities, our ‘uniqueness’ and our self-imposed classifications that seem to set us apart yet inevitably make us the same.
Like most people, I certainly don’t like being categorized; although, It seems that I have so nicely packaged and presented myself to the world as if I were being mass-produced. Ouch. If you are in denial of your demographic, it’s interesting to think about how a friend would describe you to someone who didn’t know you in a 60 second elevator speech.
“Jennifer is a vegan who is obsessive about her organic diet. She’s also Buddhist, but you could ascertain that for yourself from her conspicuously placed tattoos. She’s one of those strange artists types. Given all that, surprisingly, she is married and has two little boys. She’s pretty much a geek who spends most of her time either in a book, typing on her computer, doing yoga, or making something.”
Boom. Painful, but not only did I write those words about myself, I resonate with, relate to, and identify with them. I think most my friends would concur with my self-description.
Those are my preferences and life choices thus far, although, I’m certainly not stuck to those paths in the future. What is ‘stuck’ are the labels… that is, unless I do something about them. How interesting is it that we allow them to affix so easily to our being yet, knowingly, we adopt and allow them to restrict our growth. What purpose do they serve?
I view labels as badges from the trials and errors, life experiences, and deeply felt beliefs that we so nobly earned from years of living in our skin. The problems begin to arise when we adopt them as steadfast truths thus blocking out other avenues. Oftentimes, we continue to drill down deeper into subcategories making those labels even more constrictive. The ego is fed a delicious label, solidifying it’s place in the world. The comfort of stable, grounded identification.
Another good friend just recently brought to my attention just how this process infiltrates all aspects of our lives, yet the actual process is overlooked. It happens quickly and automatically. I told him that I was having an ‘artistic identity crisis’.
I was fluctuating between very complex designs to simple and understated.
Subcategory Label: ‘Complex’ or ‘Simple’
I wasn’t quite sure where I fit in and what I, as an artist, I should be creating.
His answer was simple: Why do I have to adhere to the specific boundaries of a ‘complex’ artist or a ‘simple’ artist? Why the hell would you want to limit yourself and your artwork in that manner? Ditch the classification and make the art that reflects the present, free from the constraints of any imposed limitations.
We are the art of the moment. No one is imposing limitations on us. Because of our egos, we do it to ourselves.
When those labels are challenged, our whole identity seems at risk because these classifications tend to become interwoven. Egos create a network of solid identity that is easy accessed to make corresponding life choices. That becomes very limiting as we then begin only to regard aspects of the world that pertain to our ego. Self-inflicted blinders.
The simple awareness of these labels, your role in affixing them, and the fact that they are not stuck with a permanent 3M adhesive, is enough to begin the process of emancipation. Becoming cognizant of their limiting effect may aid in not adopting more, while beginning the process of peeling away the existing.
Armed with this awareness, I strive to be what I am at the present, completely unlimited, undefined and open. Being a pure conduit for the beauty of the moment. And if a friend were faced with describing me in an elevator speech to someone I have yet to meet, all that they could say would be…