Independent Thinking Is Hard As Hell

I haven’t been writing much lately because I’m battling…myself.

Should I put out pleasant, likable content that plays to the crowd? Or content more uniquely me, that might require more than a quick scroll and is vulnerable?

I am competitive. I hate it when I post something on Twitter and I get fewer likes, retweets or follows than others. Yes, it’s stupid.

I want my ideas to spread, but dopamine and social acceptance are a hell of a drug.

It’s high school all over again. Remember trying to figure out the topics the teacher wanted to hear, writing essays the way they’d want, all to get a great grade?

I dreaded those years. But I find myself forced there again by none other than me. I’m spending more time thinking about what everyone wants to hear than what I want to say.

I fear being myself.

I can’t be the only one. It’s like most of us worship at the church of uniformity.

After years of uniform indoctrination in schools, we follow people with similar views, like posts that are comfortably agreeable and share stuff that we think we should say.

Algorithms feed our confirmation bias and we become purer, more uniform versions of the crowd. We become less unique, with less chance to be truly great.

As I’ve said, pure metals are often too soft or weak to be useful or lasting.

I get a chuckle because the key to becoming a great investor, business leader, artist, or really anything, seems to be thinking independently.

When you don’t write your own story, don’t be surprised when your results don’t stand out.

But none of us know how to be an independent thinker when we spend most of our waking hours in other people’s heads. We read everyone’s tweets, books, articles, and write for peer acceptance. Those are dependent tendencies.

The more time you spend in the crowd, the more you get what everyone else gets. It’s next to impossible to think for yourself if you’re not willing to be yourself.

To become independent is to be oneself? Seems easy. I’ve been myself for my entire life.

But if you are like me, you fear the truth, finding your own style.

  • What if others don’t like my views?
  • What if I am wrong when everyone else is right?
  • What if few people like the real me?

Few of us are strong enough to set these worries aside.

It’s hard as hell to be yourself.

Miles Davis once said, “Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.”

This is from a guy who was unabashedly himself. Miles Davis was an innovator and cultural icon with an inimitable style, whose influence transcends genres, generations, and artistic mediums. Inimitable is the key word - unable to be copied. Miles was Miles. Everyone respected his truth. He was the King of Cool.

A memorable piece of advice Miles received was from his father:

Miles, you hear that bird outside the window? He’s a mockingbird. He don’t have a sound of his own. He copies everybody’s sound, and you don’t want to do that. You want to be your own man, have your own sound. That’s what it’s really about. So, don’t be nobody else but yourself. You know what you got to do and I trust your judgment.”

What I am learning, very slowly, is that our greatest asset is our uniqueness. That asset is already within ourselves, fully born. There’s been no human like you before or ever will be.

Gerry Spence, the top trial lawyer of our time, said it best, “Our blessed differences come popping out of our DNA crying to be recognized and appreciated.” We have to learn to recognize and appreciate ourselves - which can take forever. We must trust ourselves. Once we discover and launch our uniqueness we are indomitable. Here is the bonus: uniqueness is immediately identifiable - creating brand mind share.

Take Kenny G. I love Kenny G. I’m not really a fan of his music, but of his style. For years musicians have picked on his technique. They say that he doesn’t play jazz, that he plays instrumental pop. Translation - he’s not a real musician. Kenny G is a punchline.

But Kenny G is genuine. Musicians are jealous. Kenny G is honest and true to himself, curly hair and all. He’s comfortable enough with himself that he pushes his brand toward self-parody. I bet most of you could pick him out from a group of other saxophonists blindfolded.

His music is as unique as his persona. People love him for that.

I want to be as comfortable with myself as Kenny G is with himself. The guy is the top selling instrumentalist and invested in Starbucks early and held. He couldn’t have done either without being an independent thinker, or true to himself.

I’ve written that style is your brand, your hallmark, the thing that separates you from the rest. We all have uniqueness, it just takes time and honesty.

I’ve made my case on getting to our true self and unique style. Now it is time to figure out how I am trying to discover that and how you can too.

I think each of us has a muse. It is the subconscious inspiration, emotion and all knowing part of us. It is the part we all have locked away long ago. I think the first step is to look inward and try to uncover your muse.

This is the key to ourselves and our own unique style. Try to envision what that muse looks like, acts like and be there for it. Like a clam, it is closed up most of the time. You can’t force it open. You have to be there for that one moment that pearl appears.

Let me tell you about my muse. He lurks in the lowest caves of my soul. He looks like a child. He’s innocent - full of emotions. Anytime I try to force something out of him, he stares at me blankly, grunts and goes back to his video game.

I haven’t taken him seriously because he looks young and he is too complicated to deal with. He’s a black box. Because of this, I have him locked up and pay no attention to him unless I want divine inspiration from him. The years of neglect have left him dirty and malnourished.

When he needs me, he sends emotions, but I’ve repressed them.

I’ve found that I need to be there for him. For the more time, attention and care I give to him, the more I understand myself.

How do I communicate with my muse?

Notice how all of these are artistic endeavors. My muse doesn’t speak English. Yours probably doesn’t speak your language either. Mine speaks in feelings. Feelings are hard to describe. Art conveys what can’t be said with words.

So the more I create in art, the better I can understand his language and communicate with him.

Listen to your muse. Be patient.

This writeup has taken me 2 months to write. I’ve been stuck trying to force the ideas from my conscious mind. Like anything from that place, it has been bland, opaque and not unique. Nothing my conscious mind says is honest. It’s robotic and hollow.

So I kept knocking at my muse’s door, getting the grunt and shrug. It has only been after spending time with my art and time listening to the muse, that yesterday morning while doing my daily virtual reality bike ride that my muse came to me with the write up on a silver platter.

Almost no work was involved on my part, aside from translating my muse.

If you want to be an independent thinker, you have to be honest with yourself. Find your own style. Don’t be afraid to look inward. You already know what you have to do. Just ask.

Let me reiterate by asking you these questions:

  • Do you spend more time reading other people’s thoughts than listening to your own?
  • Are you comfortable being uncomfortable?
  • Do you know yourself better than yesterday?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • Who is your muse?
  • Do you listen to them? What does your muse best respond to?

I trust you.

Do you?

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