Paul Prather

Paul Prather: Grandfatherly advice encourages following your own bliss

Last year, I first delivered a talk to a group about a book I hope to write eventually. I still haven't gotten far in the actual writing. I've developed an outline and jotted some notes.

If I ever get it done, it will consist of truths I've learned the hard way and wish to pass on to my grandkids, to spare them unnecessary trouble and pain.

Mainly, when I go out to speak, as I do semi-regularly, I never know whether my talks are OK. People are polite. That's about it.

But I've spoken several times now on "What I Want to Tell My Grandchildren." Almost every time, it's been a clear hit, no matter the age or orientation of the crowd I've addressed.

People nod and laugh and even cry, and when my allotted time is up, they urge me to go on longer. That isn't what I'm used to. Not by a long shot.

So, since I've begun writing columns every week instead of twice a month, and thus have to think up more topics, I thought maybe I'd occasionally try a what-I-want-my-grandkids-to-know piece. We'll see how these observations translate into print.

I call this bit of grandfatherly advice, "Just be yourself."

There's something about human beings that makes us want to conform. That's not all bad. Without rules and norms, we'd find it much harder to get along in society.

It's good that people who are traveling in one direction agree to drive on the same side of the road, and that people going the opposite direction drive on the opposite side. Otherwise, we'd have lots more wrecks.

When you kids earn your driver's licenses and climb behind the wheel of a car, you not only have my permission to conform to the rules, I'm begging you to conform.

But too much of anything is bad, even if the thing in itself is perfectly fine.

A lot of people lead stunted lives because they conform too much.

If getting a back-covering tattoo of a red-eyed vulture becomes the fad, they'll get that enormous vulture — even though it hurts like crazy and the wacky picture on their hide will be impossible to get rid of when it's not faddish anymore.

If buzzing off all their hair becomes the thing, they'll go bald just to be accepted. If long hair then becomes trendy, they'll let their hair grow down to their yin-yang.

They'll wear any gosh-awful garb, cheer any sports team, work at any job no matter how utterly they hate it, pretend to believe any dogma spouted by some preacher or idiot TV gasbag. They'll do whatever it takes to fit in.

The problem is, quite often they aren't comfortable with what they're doing. That's not who they are, or at least not who they'd like to be.

They don't enjoy basketball, even University of Kentucky basketball. They pretend to enjoy it so they'll sound cool talking with their friends about it the next day. They like it because everyone else likes it and they're supposed to like it.

If you could get inside people's brains, I'll bet you'd see that half the people rabidly cheering for the Wildcats — or playing golf four days a week, or wearing their pants down around their knees — are acting that way because everyone else does.

They'd love for somebody to say, "You know, I'm all for basketball (or golf, or baggy pants), but that's not what I happen to care about. I'd rather spend the evening reading a book (or collecting butterflies, or trying on nice suits at a men's store)."

Try your darnedest to be that person.

Don't become disagreeable just for the sake of calling attention to yourself. That's baloney, too. It's a psychiatric condition, actually: oppositional defiant disorder.

But you can remain amiable and still be the person who's comfortable enough with him- or herself to say, "You guys go ahead. I don't much want to do that."

If you'd rather stay home and paint pictures than go camping at Red River Gorge, be polite to all concerned, but then let the crowd take their camping trip while you sit in your den and paint.

If you're lucky, eventually you'll find a few true friends who'll say, "Awesome. We'll see you when we get back." And they'll mean it.

You'll celebrate their choices; they'll celebrate yours—even when you've chosen quite different things. That's part of becoming emotionally mature; you appreciate people for who they are, not for their attempts to imitate you.

But in any case, learn to follow your own bliss, not someone else's.

You'll not only set yourself free; you might accidentally help others find the courage to be themselves as well.

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