What’s your spirit animal? When I was first asked that question – I can’t remember whether it was a friend with a spiritual streak, or a drunken conversation one night in a bar – I fell into the same trap pretty much everyone does: I tried to think of my best qualities and match them with a cool creature.
After-all, who wants to admit that their life is like a random dash from one pile of crap to the next? That would’ve made my spirit animal a house-fly. Cool or what?
Instead, I chose a salmon. The image of a creature swimming against the tide: dodging rapids, waterfalls and grizzly bears to reach its final destination, struck a chord.
But hang on a minute, salmon are only doing what’s expected of them: following the crowd, doing exactly what every other salmon does; only to lay a few eggs and die! OK, so the pay-off is the continuity of the species, but let’s not kid ourselves that it’s anything noble; it’s pure instinct.
If salmon had the ability to construct rational thought, don’t you think they’d try to figure out a better way to propagate the species?
It’s the same for us. We carry on doing the same old things, each and every day; doing exactly what’s expected of us and merely flirting with the concept of true individuality. We’re perpetually concerned with how others view us, and use their approval as validation that we’re on the right track.
So, we get acknowledgement and a pat on the head for a lack of imagination; for following the rules and doing nothing unexpected that would force others to draw comparison with their own mediocrity. People don’t like change, and being confronted with the possibility that they could be doing more with their lives, is an uncomfortable reality that many don’t want to face.
It’s the same in every aspect of life: there’s no shortage of ‘experts’ willing to give their opinion – solicited or otherwise – as to how you should be living. But I submit that they’re only classed as experts because they speak with authority on something that a majority of people agree with.
Maybe it’s because I’ve got a non-conformist streak a mile wide, but whenever a so-called expert tells me what I should be doing, or the rules I should be following, I instantly want to know what the alternatives are. Who the hell made up the rules anyway?
I wasn’t always like that and sought approval just the same as everyone else when I was younger. But when I got older I noticed that many of these bastions of wisdom were rarely open to change, and seldom willing to think outside the box. They were more concerned with protecting their position and maintaining the existing system – whatever that may be – than personal growth.
This frustrated the hell out of me, and so began a lifetime of unapologetic experimentation. I figured that no-one has the definitive answer to everything, let alone when they haven’t got my best interests in mind, so why couldn’t I tread a totally different path and make life the best I possibly could. It may have taken a bit of trial and error along the way, but that’s all part of the learning process.
And I’ve done it ever since. In fact, if I’d listened to everyone who’d told me I was crazy for doing one thing or another then I’d never have been as happy as I am today.
I was told I’d never succeed in the career I chose: I made it through and achieved much along the way (the lives I helped change make it all worthwhile).
I was told I wouldn’t be able to raise my son alone, and hold down the job I had: how dare anyone tell a father what he’s willing to do for his child?
At age fifty, I’ve long since given up listening to advice as to how I should eat or exercise. I went my own way years ago and I’m fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been. The funny thing being that the fitness industry is now finally catching up and acknowledging that there are alternatives to what’s been considered best practice.
Don’t even get me started on the crap people spout when it comes to relationship advice. It’s all bollocks! There’s no room for ‘rules’; only mutual respect.
You’d be right to recognise a pattern here: there is virtually no aspect of my life that hasn’t been made better by my ignoring conventional wisdom and going my own way. I’ll tell you something; it’s empowering.
Now don’t get me wrong. While I’ll happily tell anyone who’s interested, what I did; I will never claim that what worked for me is going to be right for everyone. For while I’m the world’s foremost expert on me, ultimately, we all have to find our own path.
The only advice I can give is to never blindly accept as truth, what others tell you is in your best interests. There’s no harm in listening (even if it serves only to illuminate an alternate path), but there is absolutely no-one who knows you better than you do.
Oh, and another thing: if you ever encounter anyone who proclaims themselves to be a guru who has the answer to all your woes; run a mile! These idiots pray on the vulnerable, and usually not without enormous personal gain.
So how does breaking the rules result in happiness? Well, how has a lifetime of following the rules served you so far? I’ll argue every singe day, that ignoring convention and making all your own decisions, will give you a far better chance at happiness than blindly doing what you’re told. At the very least it’ll give you the confidence to practice free thought and build a sense of confidence in your own ability.
And so, we return to talk of spirit animals. Only a bit of fun, and hardly carrying any meaning, but if I was forced to pick a critter that most encapsulated how I saw myself; it’s got to be a platypus.
These little guys are the Swiss army-knife of the animal world. They make no sense, and really shouldn’t ‘be’. Not glamorous, and rarely worthy of comment: they carve out an existence in their own little corner of the globe.
Their very composition defies all the usual rules: it’s as if they’ve put two fingers up to evolution, and cherry picked all the parts they liked from other creatures. Hell, they even have poisonous barbs on their legs!
When I last declared my choice of spirit animal, the retort was: “yeah but it can’t fly!”
My reply: “Does it want to? ‘cos if it did, it’d surely grow a pair of wings.”