For those of us who’ve taken American History, the term “rugged individualism” is all too familiar. We’ve been taught that the crux of American success has been Americans’ ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Personally, the term rugged individualism makes me think of our Founding Fathers wearing lumberjack garb while building the White House by hand (despite all the historical inaccuracies J). As odd as the image may be, it represents a part of individualism I believe is really important, which is working hard to achieve one’s personal goals. The other part is being able not only to accept but also to embrace the face that we are all different from one another. In my search to a “true individual” whom I can emulate, I encountered a Grown-On-Their-Own, or GOTO, friend of mine who showed me that proudly being yourself brings about a special happiness that is uniquely yours.
It was a beautiful day outside, and despite the scholarships, homework, and chores I knew I needed to do, I decided instead to call a friend and hang out.
The sunshine must be brightening my mood, I thought as I dialed the number of my GOTO pal. My mood got an additional boost after I had finalized lunch plans with my GOTO friend. Responsibilities will always be in my life, but days like these are hard to come by! I thought. And so, shining as vibrantly as a fluorescent light bulb, I grabbed my keys and raced off to lunch.
Settling into my booth at the restaurant, I smiled into the lens of my green/yellow/red sunglasses. I’m so glad I can just relax with a friend on a beautiful day like today, I thought. After my GOTO friend sat down, we started talking our future plans, our schools, and all the responsibilities we had set aside to have lunch that day.
“It is so unlike me to NOT do something I know I should be doing,” I said as we started eating. “Usually, I’m the odd one out in my group of friends, the one who pushes everyone to study and do their work.” Now, look at me, I thought, skipping out on doing homework to go to lunch. I’m such a rebel!
My GOTO pal understood exactly what feeling like the odd one out is like. “I’ve pretty much always been a little bit different from everyone I know, even when I was a little kid. When all the kids wanted to go play at the park, I always wanted to talk with the adults instead. It wasn’t that I didn’t like to have fun, it was just that when I was with older people I felt like there was more that I could talk about. Ever since then I knew I was going to live life a little differently than everyone else.”
Wow, I thought. If I knew I was going to be a loony homework fiend when I was a little kid, I’m not sure I would have come to those terms so peacefully. It’s really cool that my GOTO friend is so comfortable with feeling different from others. “Ok, so you seem okay with being the ‘unusual’ person in your group. But haven’t you ever felt like your differences make you stand out too much?”
My GOTO pal paused for a moment while chewing a bite of food. After swallowing, my GOTO pal said, “Sometimes I guess I feel like that. But Abi, I know who I am, and I don’t want to lose the odd qualities I have. I’m just going to strive to achieve my goals and hope for the best.”
There must have been some extra Confidence sprinkled on that chewy bite, I thought. Um, waiter, can I have some of that please? “You seem like you know exactly what you want to do,” I said. “Where do you get all your confidence?”
“Well, basically I have had to work my butt off for everything I’ve got,” my GOTO pal said. “Whether it was doing chores around the house or working part-time, I have always had to earn what I have. I figure, if I’ve worked hard up to this point and had enough to be happy, I should be able to achieve happiness in the future.”
Work hard, accept who you are, work hard, accept who you are…. This mantra repeated itself over and over in my mind as we finished our meal. Driving home from the restaurant, I realized I had been an eyewitness to a demonstration of true individualism. My GOTO pal not only celebrated the fact that differences in personality makes one unique but also realized that working hard for one’s own goals can bring about fulfilling success. Watch out, rugged individualism and your five-o-clock shadow, there’s a new, clean-shaven “UNIQUE” in town!
Lesson Learned: Celebrate those traits that make you unique and own up to the hard work you need to do to succeed in your personal goals. If you are the lone artist in your group of friends, then paint them the best picture you can! Only singer in your study group? Belt out the latest popular song in the middle of calculus homework like a professional! If you work hard to develop who you are, you can achieve an inner contentment that no one can take from you. (And if they try, clobber them with the hammer of rugged individualism J)“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” Eleanor Roosevelt