To Thine Own Self Be True; Who are You?
I said no more Alaska Posts and while this post has Alaska as a backdrop, it isn’t about Alaska, it’s about “Finding Yourself” and being true to yourself. This trip to Alaska clarified a lot of things about myself and I want to share it with you. The great majority of you are living the traditional American life and living vicariously through my blog. That implies to me that you may not have been true to yourself and don’t honestly know who you really are. Instead, you are being true to societies expectations and brainwashing. I suspect that many of you are just now struggling to find out who you really are by exploring ways of life that have secretly always called you. You read my blog because this life is the one you secretly long to be living.
Of course I don’t know most of you and even if I did I’m no one to pass any judgment on you or your life. Nobody but you can discover who you really are and how to be true to that person. What I can do is tell you my story and let you decide if it speaks to you and applies to you in any way.
Our concern must be to live while we are alive… to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a façade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.
~Elisabeth Kubler Ross
I wasn’t really aware of how much impact Alaska had on me until I left and then came back. Time away gave me a new perspective. If you’ve met me in person or seen me in the many pictures I post, you’ll notice I don’t look like other people. I’m generally disheveled looking with plain, well-worn and possibly dirty jeans and T-shirt. I have long hair and a long beard that are pretty wild looking. My van is always dirty, my trailer is generally dirty and I’ve got stuff scattered everywhere. In the Lower 48 States, I have always felt like the odd man out.
I look like a guy who doesn’t care what I look like and couldn’t care less what you think about it! And that describes me perfectly!
When I got back to Alaska, I found myself surrounded by people who looked just like me!! Long hair and beards, dirty jeans, old worn T-shirts and dirty, beat-up old POS cars were everywhere. Best of all, no one seemed the least bit embarrassed by it!! That’s just the way it was and “eff-you” if you don’t like it! These were my people! Finally, I didn’t look or feel like an odd-ball anymore! The conclusion I reached was that I truly am a product of my environment.
But at the same time most of my adult life I’ve been very fearful and lived my life in conformity to what was expected to me. I got married, got a job I worked at for 35 years, had kids and was just a totally typical American drone going through the motions of living. I gave up all the things I had loved as a child and young man and that made me deeply happy. Things like:
- I had backpacked over much of Alaska,
- I had spent 6 weeks in the Arctic camping, hunting, rafting, and backpacking.
- I had taken two long extended motorcycle trips all over the Lower 48 and even driven the Alcan on one of them when it was still a miserable dirt road in the rain.
- I’d spent a summer giving tours in Kotzebue, Alaska, an authentic, tiny Eskimo village on the Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle.
- I craved freedom so much I quit my great paying (but boring and soul-killing) job and drove school bus for 5 years. That let me work part-time and have my summers off to go do the things listed above.
But then I sold-out and rejected who I really am and got married and never did any of those things again for over 20 years. I went back to the soul-sucking job and lost my soul. I was secretly an unhappy and miserable person. Being so unhappy ultimately led to a divorce which led me to vandwelling, which saved my life. Until then, I embodied the Thoreau quote:
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Thoreau.
What happened? How did I do a total about-face and become a totally different—and miserable–person. The easy answer is that I gave into societies brainwashing. But I think there is more to it than that.
The ago-old debate is how much do Nurture (how and where you were raised) versus Nature (genetic and biological influences) control who we are. I’m a huge believer in the importance of Nature in forming us into who we are. We have a million years of genetic evolution coursing through our bodies and saying that is unimportant is absurd; our genes are very, very important. But to say the environment you were raised in isn’t important is equally preposterous. Our parents and environment tremendously control us. This trip back to Alaska (after being gone for 8 years) made it very clear just how much I am a product of the land I was raised in.
Genetically, there is no doubt in my mind that I have the Novelty Gene because my father had it. Back in 1961 my father piled his young family (I was 6 and my sister was 10) into the family sedan and drove the Alcan to live in Alaska. That was a bold and extremely adventurous move for that time. Back then most people thought going to Alaska was like going to the moon; we lived in Igloos, ate whale blubber and it was below zero and snowed all summer. But my father had such a longing to live free and hunt that he didn’t hesitate to jump at the chance to go to Alaska when it was offered to him. He is the perfect example of a man who has the Novelty Gene. In fact I think if you did genetic testing, the population of Alaska would be off-the-charts in the number of people who have the Novelty Gene. People who move to Alaska have a craving for wildness, adventure and new things that is far beyond the “average” person; that certainly describes my father and most of the people I knew there—as well as myself.
So how did I so easily sell out what made me happy and live a life that made me miserable? Before I answer that, let me make it very clear that it isn’t being married and having kids that made me unhappy. I totally believe I could have been happy being married and having kids but when I sold out on my hopes and dreams and flushed them down the toilet I doomed myself to a miserable life and the failure of my marriage. It’s possible to combine your adventurous side and still be a family person. I just didn’t try, instead I rolled over and died.
When I try to figure out why, all I can think of is the 1964 Good Friday earthquake in Alaska. I was 9 years old at the time and it remains to this day the single most vivid memory I have. This wasn’t just another earthquake, it was 9.3 on the Richter scale and the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America and one of the top three largest ever recorded anywhere.
I think it instilled a fear in me that was greater than the genetic urge to adventure. So when society did it’s brainwashing on me to turn me into a good wage-slave drone that fear made it easy to turn my back on my true self and become lost and unhappy.
Fortunately I hit a bottom that demanded I make some changes; I simply could not go on living like I had been. I found a spiritual program that worked for me. It turned me around and opened me up to totally changing everything about my life. The person I had become was a total failure on every level so I set out to remake myself but this time I would be true to who I really am. At that time vandwelling was forced onto me but it turned out to be the hand of a Higher Power leading me to my true self.
Finally, I’m being true to my own self and living in harmony with myself.
My greatest wish for you is that you also would be true to your own self—whatever that is! My hope is that you would know exactly who you are and what you need and not what your parents, teachers and society told you that you should be. I wish you to be happy and never give up on your dreams. To do that I encourage you each to begin an adventure of self-discovery. Examine yourself and your life to see if you are happy. If the little boy or girl you once were could see you now, how would he or she like you? What advice would she or he give you? Are you willing to follow it?
“It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live.
And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.
Otherwise, you will live your life as a prostitute, you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived. and you will not have a pleasant death.”
~Elisabeth Kubler Ross