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Walking to the Beat of Your Own Drum.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” – Henry David Thoreau

Authenticity is immediately noticeable.

The celebration of the much-too-short life of a young friend left me holding tight to the invitation in what can be one of life’s great challenges for people young and old: Be yourself.

A quick search on Google yields pages (truly pages) of pithy advice from folks ranging from poets and playwrights to Dr. Seuss. Here are three of my favorites:

  • To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde
  • Today you are you. That is truer that true. There is no one alive that is you-er than you. – Dr. Seuss

In the 18 of his 20 years of life that I knew my friend, whenever I had the pleasure of being with him I walked away impressed at how very himself he always was. Sometimes he did this quietly, sometimes flamboyantly. Either way, I rarely, if ever, saw him try to conform to anyone else’s ideas of who he was or what he cared about.

Being yourself is harder than it sounds.

This is especially impressive in one so young, but is something people struggle with at every stage of life. Yes, adolescence can be an overtly brutal period for those who walk to the beat of their own drum. But if you pause to think about it, so can young adulthood when you’re choosing your career path. Or older adulthood when you wake up one morning to discover that you’re not happy on the path you initially chose. Or early parenthood when you’re barraged by well-meaning advice on a million ways to avoid “messing up” your child. Or as you enter the empty-nest years when it’s time to redefine yourself after sharing your life’s purpose for two decades. Or retirement. Or …

Being yourself is hard. Often because we don’t have a clear sense of who it is we actually are. We can’t seem to hear the beat of our own drum.

We can get mixed up when we look around the world and see people who are interesting, impressive and inspiring. We think, “I’d like to be more like her.” We can get mixed up when we seek advice from people who love us and whom we love, from professionals and from amateur “experts,” and sometimes from complete strangers we talk to on the subway. We can get mixed up when we compare ourselves and our path to others and the paths they’ve chosen and find our journey to be somehow lacking.

Never fear. Getting mixed up does not spell ruin. Your own drum is still beating; its sound has just been drowned out for a moment. In fact, you could make an argument that exploration of other “drumbeats” is a great way to affirm or confirm the drumbeat coming from deep within you.

Being yourself is not a cure-all for struggles and challenges.

Knowing that you’re indeed walking to the beat of your own drum requires that you pay attention to how you feel. This is at once surprisingly simple and frustratingly elusive – mostly because how we feel about how we’re living or who we’re being is often obscured by how we feel about what is happening to us or around us at any given moment.

Having a bad day, or a bad week or even a bad year does not necessarily mean you’ve started marching to someone else’s drum. Said another way, being true to yourself doesn’t mean that life is going to be one long walk along a sunny beach. Being yourself is not a cure-all for struggles and challenges. But being yourself does pretty much guarantee that the struggles and challenges that you face will stretch you and change you in ways that feel like growth.

Similarly, feeling pressure from your peers, parents or partners does not mean that your “drum” has led you astray. The pressure that comes from being on the wrong path feels deeply confining. When we’re being authentic to who we are, life in general feels more spacious. Despite nay-sayers (and there might be plenty of them), we feel a certain rightness. Despite pressures from those around us, we feel like have room to dream, to stretch and to imagine.

Staying in synch with the beat of your own drum can take some practice.

Some people, like my friend, seem blessed with an inner drumbeat that leads them surely and confidently down their path. How do the rest of us find our way? How do we develop and maintain a clear sense of who we are?

Adopting a mindful practice such as yoga, meditation, journaling or prayer is tremendously helpful. As we turn our awareness inward day after day, we become more familiar with our inner landscape – what we love, what matters to us, what we dream about. We also receive a clearer understanding of what pinches and squeezes us.

With practice, authenticity can become our default mode. With practice, we can, like my young friend seemed to do so effortlessly, hear more clearly and follow more surely the beat of our own drum.

Are you looking for a practice that can support you as you strive to live authentically? Try one of our classes to see if it’s a good fit for you.