It’s no surprise that people today are at either end of the spectrum, extremely “normal” or extremely “abnormal”. What I mean by that is that if you look at the majority of the world, people spend most of their time living like robots, systematically designed to follow a particular path towards supposed success, while there are the other few, a smaller percentage of today’s population that are so far out there that they catch the attention of the public and are recognized for their “outlandish behavior” because they choose to pursue their own paths and want to be seen doing it.

Strike a Balance

To be more than average requires us to find a balance between the two extremes. To recognize that there are some aspects of life that require us to maintain submission or embracement of the rules and the norms, while also pursuing what pleases us and fulfills our passions, despite the expectations or opinions of others. I say others instead of society because we don’t often concern ourselves with society as a whole, but rather, concern ourselves with the “others” that surround us every day.  This balance isn’t one that is easy to come by because of the overwhelming temptation and pressure of succumbing to what is easier and more readily available and laid out for us to pursue. Why go through the forest without a map if a path has already been made, proven as being “correct”, and is what everybody else is taking to get to the proverbial “treasure chest”? Well, that brings me to my next point…

Be You

It sounds cliché, but it’s a reality that needs to be accepted and embraced by everyone. It’s definitely not easy to attain, but being yourself requires recognizing that there are some aspects of your life, including faith, societal laws, and a basic moral code that should abide by an understood and laid out plan to maintain humanity. Without those particular rules not only in existence but in practice as well, individuals and society as a whole would run amuck, with people harming, if not killing others out of sheer idiocy, ignorance, or personal agendas, or with people doing whatever they please without having to hold any accountability for their actions. Yet, these rules and guidelines should not define you in your entirety. You are an individual, which means you have traits that make you unique. That said, it is on you to make sure that you pursue those traits and make the most of them, because ultimately, we live in a self-serving society, and not many are willing to let others stand out if it means that they themselves will be left behind. This sounds cynical, but I believe it to be optimistic realism instead. The reason I say this is because it is human nature to do what is necessary to survive, and to survive in today’s world often compels people to push even those closest to them under the bus. Yet, there is hope, because by being yourself, you no longer have to worry about competing with others because you are too busy competing with your past self. When you focus on establishing your own identity, independent of the expectations or opinions of others, you become an elite in your category because you become your own category of personality. There is no one that will be able to completely emulate you, and although there will be attempts to do so, because you pursuing your own self-made identity is admirable, and thus desirable to those who follow rather than lead, no one will ever be you.

This leads to that question of why one would enter a forest without a map or path to follow, when it is proven path to success. Simply put, I would much rather enjoy the experience of running through the forest, making mistakes, getting lost and finding my way, tripping over branches, feeling the cracking of twigs and the mushing of moss below my feet, and hearing the gusts of the wind and the nature’s song through the chirps of birds, than to walk a dead, quiet, and boring path towards so-called success and happiness. Success and happiness are two things I believe to be relative and unique to each individual, so if we all follow the same path, what will be all that exciting about our ultimate “success” and “happiness”?

Push Beyond Limits

This is where you stand out most. I think I’ve made my point of the importance of doing things in your own way, while following base rules and guidelines on the aspects of life that structure our minds. But, that simply makes us different. What makes us stand out is our efforts and attempts to go above and beyond to do what it takes to be our best. That means that if you’re trying to become a painter, you do more than you did yesterday in an effort to strengthen your craft. If you want to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, or anything else that requires a formal education, don’t just learn from what’s given to you. Go find books, fall in love with the library, volunteer at different places, and ultimately strengthen your knowledge in your field. THIS is what will make you stand out amongst the crowd. That said, if in this process, you compare yourself to others, you will always be left behind someone at some point. Rather, if you simply make your past self your only competition, you will pursue knowledge, application, and overall betterment for the sake of your love for it, and not for rankings in some tally of individuals unknowingly becoming robotic stats on a sheet.

Ultimately, my point is this: Strike a balance of following rules and guidelines with finding your own path towards your pursuits. Don’t let the expectations, opinions, or experiences of others pull or tempt you towards taking a certain path, but instead, make your own path. And finally, push beyond your limits and do what is necessary for you to reach the heights of success by being better than your past you. These are my steps towards success, and although the journey is bumpier, more dangerous, and takes longer, it has and will continue to leave me content and in love with life, insha Allah (God-willing).