“Coming of age” carries with it a persistent urge to be as common as possible.
“Coming of age” carries with it a persistent urge to be as common as possible. This social urge manifests itself in fashion, language, behavior, interests, hobbies and more - the list goes on and on. One thinks that blending in with the crowd opposed to standing out eliminates potential risk of “social suicide,” or assuming unwanted negative attention. This desire to assimilate is so normal that it’s even biological, but it hinders the discovery of self-identity, and therefore individual maturity.
Let’s not sugar-coat it: high school is tough. Sleepless nights and staggering expectations, combined with social pressure to perform rather than to live, simultaneously wear down the mind and confuse the heart. These four, formative years serve as some of the worst, happiest, best and saddest years of the ultimate quest for identity that we call life.
The scapegoat is the monkey-see, monkey-do formula which is adopted by many. Sometimes it’s simply a harmless fashion trend (North Face jackets and Ugg boots, circa 2010) but other times it’s a more dangerous lack of judgement and personal will, resulting in poor choices influenced by peer pressure.
These misdemeanors are a part of life and can often be helpful in ultimately deciding what it is we like to wear, say and do. But where does this lead? The most crucial part of coming of age isn’t receiving access to an inheritance, signing up for the military or registering to vote. Instead, it’s the confidence that what you say, wear and do is unequivocally and entirely you.
This isn’t to say that adults don’t feel social pressure to conform, but rather that the defining moments of adulthood are those in which we express ourselves unapologetically, speaking and acting from the heart rather than from an external force beckoning us to slip into the background.
The stepping stones of the quest to identity include a self-analysis of who our audience is, who our influences are, and how it feels when we act accordingly for these respective entities. Whether it’s the popular girl in school, a famous social media celebrity, an older sibling or your best friend, there are always people who influence what we deem “trendy,” and “cool.” These influences are not always negative but nonetheless powerful, carrying the potential to overweigh our own judgement and threaten our sense of identity.
And when we act, speak or dress a certain way that is not independent of these influences, we have an audience in mind - whether consciously or subconsciously - whose existence is important to acknowledge and recognize. If this audience’s approval is only affirmed by acting, speaking or dressing a certain way that does not feel true or right, then perhaps those relationships are worth reassessing.
True self-expression is individually unique, thus obliterating the idea of “common.” Breaking free from the flock is intimidating and at times quite hard, but a path of honesty is a path worth taking.
Nevertheless, sidestepping the status quo is often risky, but it is the mutated gene - the uncommon - that causes an animal to eventually become the most fit. Just as mutated genes can lead to a species’ survival, a changed form of self expression, though uncommon, leads to greatness.