As a sophomore in college, I am currently revisiting "Self-Reliance," an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, in my American Literature class. I forgot how much this piece meant to me when we largely focused on it my junior year of high school. For an assignment, I chose to use Emerson's words as inspiration for an advice letter to my twin sister.
After tirelessly searching through email archives, I dug up a copy of it. Blast from the past! After rereading it 3 years later, I can see that it was everything I needed to say at the time. Little did 16-year-old me know that it would be everything 19-year-old me needed to hear. I hope you can find some motivating words here.
It has been made known to me for the past couple of weeks that your self-doubt is extraordinarily hindering your self-perception. In today’s world, we look up to characters of Hollywood for reassurance on how to act and what to wear in order to please others. We are missing a momentous piece of the puzzle that will help you realize how phenomenal you are - self-reliance.
I have noticed that in your spare time you like to pick out all of the characteristics you do not like about yourself, roll them up into a ball, and keep that ball in the back of your mind until your frustration is overwhelming. For me, it is difficult to watch and understand how you do not see your own beauty! You want to change your hair, facial features, and clothes because society has forced you into believing a gorgeous person should always have the same layout. Perfect white teeth. Shining blonde hair styled to perfection. A perfect tanned figure with curves like an hourglass. But we are not perfect. Our traits are God-given, planned out with imperfections meant to mesmerize the eye and lead us down a particular path in life. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘envy is ignorance.’ You must not be jealous of those who possess a different beauty that you aspire to have. Instead, you should recognize your own beauty, dazzling personality, and blessed life and friends that many others look up to you for just the same!
Although it feels like you’re on a pedestal, crowds watching and judging you on how you carry yourself, it is instead true that you are your own enemy. Emerson wrote in Self-Reliance, “...no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil.” The statement implies that we all feel as though we must toil and critique ourselves before we can find solidarity and comfort with the body we inhabit. Accept yourself and your beauty as is, because every time I listen to you rant about what you want changed on your body, I cannot help but find vexation in the dilemma. We are all following our own paths and cannot expect perfection at any moment in time.
I do not want you to think that you cannot still come to me with trips of self-doubt after reading this. I will always be here to reassure you of how extraordinary you are. I, too, am guilty of ignoring my inner voice and instead listening to society’s woes. It is almost feels as though I should be angry at society for sitting on its throne and judging its subjects, however, there is such a plethora of bodies within it that I cannot find a place to direct my difficulties unto. Emerson states in Self-Reliance, “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.” Society’s standards are tearing us down and forcing us into molds that are fit to be copied and pasted onto Twitter and Instagram. We must not conform to the very body that is drastically leading to our downfall, self-pity, and hindering our self-appreciation!
On another note, most teenagers are beginning to attempt impressing their peers and crushes. In the words of a wise friend, they should be chomping at the bit to get a piece of you! It is affirmatively burdensome that God has created the human being to get tangled up into trying to impress the opposite sex. We are all seeking the attention of others and changing our demeanors for others. Allow them to vie for your attention! Do not change yourself for anyone, because in the words of Emerson, ‘your life is for itself and not for a spectacle.’ You are not a monkey in a zoo that can be assessed through thick glass. Nor are you a painting in an art museum with dull colors or uptight spectators. Know that there will always be a certain type of crowd surrounding you and trying to dim your sparkle. Recognize that you are brilliantly intelligent, beautiful, can hold a witty argument, and can handle a cup of black coffee like an ‘intellectual’ (ha-ha).
Never second-guess your intelligence. As Emerson persuades, ‘trust thyself.’ If you want to go to a top university, do not let anybody hinder your path to achievement. Rely on only yourself to earn your position on the world’s playing field. There are always going to be students who want to make it known that they are acing the class or earning superior grades on tests. Do not allow their self-absorbed front wedge its way into your mind and create unnecessary irritation.
Keep allowing yourself to be weird. I cannot handle this front alone. The people in your life who truly care about you and appreciate your friendship will love you as is. Society will push you to the brink of insanity if you let its corrupt ideals tell you how to live your life! It will never understand our odd quirks, crude jokes, exquisite sarcasm, peculiar habits, or tendency to smirk because the expression has not yet been appreciated to its fullest potential nor queered from overuse by surrounding bodies. We need to love ourselves, our cringeworthy attempts to pass as cool, our teenage acne, youthful bodies, braceface smiles, and willingness to try new things and stay intrinsically motivated.
“To be great is to be misunderstood.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
So, here’s to self-reliance.
Circa March 2018.