It is a creative person’s individuality that defines her. Most people are conventional and prize conformity; some people prize their individuality. Even if she trains herself to hold her tongue, an individual who prizes her individuality will already know as a young child that she can’t conform and that she wasn’t built to conform. Looking around, unable to understand why people are acting so conventionally, starting to feel alienated, out of place, and like a “stranger in a strange land,” she finds herself burdened by this pulsing energy: the fierce need to be herself. This need produces lifelong emotional consequences.

If you are born individual and find yourself presented with some arbitrary, odd-sounding rule—that you can only play with one of your toys at a time or that God will be offended if you don’t wear a hat, you immediately ask, “Why?” If the answer makes no sense to you or if you get your ears boxed, you cry “No!” and begin to grow oppositional. A certain oppositional attitude naturally and inevitably flows from an individual’s adamant effort to reject humbug and to make personal sense of the world.

This oppositional attitude, perhaps suppressed in childhood, begins to announce itself and assert itself in adolescence and to grow as an individual’s interactions with the conventional world increase. It grows as his ability to “do his thing” is directly or indirectly restricted by the machinery of society. He finds himself in an odd kind of fight, not necessarily with any particular person or group of people but with everyone and everything meant to constrain him and reduce him to a cipher. He finds himself in a fight to the death, a fight to retain his individuality.

One proof that this dynamic actually takes place is the frequency with which we see it in the lives of creative people. Arnold Ludwig, in his study of “1000 extraordinary men and women” called The Price of Greatness, explained: “These individuals often have an attitude set that is oppositional in nature. These are not people who just see that the emperor has no clothes; they offer their own brand of attire for him to wear. When dominant ideologies challenge reason, they feel obliged to speak out, do what they believe is right, and pursue their own goals, even when they may be punished for doing so.”

So nature, which doesn’t joke, nevertheless has its little joke and creates an individual who must know for himself, follow his own path, and be himself, puts it in his mind that he is born to do earth-shattering and life-saving work, gives him the energy to pursue this work and the courage to stand in opposition even to the whole world, and then turns around and tortures him. It heightens his core anxiety by giving him an existential outlook, making sure that nothing will satisfy him, pouring adrenaline through his system, and swelling his head so that he is primed to tip over, top-heavy, into self-centeredness.

Individuality has emotional consequences. Nature may have designated you as one of her individuals but she has not provided you with a blueprint to follow. You will have to work that out, even while nursing a pain in your heart and a pain in your head. Be the individual that you are. Do you really have a choice? But become more mindful of your emotional landscape by adopting a self-observer’s attitude. Rage against injustice; but also observe what that rage is doing to your system. Paint obsessively; but also observe whether you are racing too fast. Monitor yourself—that is your duty. Maintain your individuality but be mindful of the consequences of being true to yourself!


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