The Struggle Is Real
If you have ever chosen an outfit, conversed with anyone, sent an email, cooked a meal, posted an instagram picture, or written a Facebook status, then you know the struggle of personal style. You might not think you do, but you do. Personal style is a struggle of art, but not art in the way most people define art. It's not about paints and pens or fashion and fabrics, it’s about putting something where there was once nothing. It’s about making a choice in front of the world, and all of us do that on several occasions every single day. We know this struggle well.
You’ve struggled with it, too. You, too, have put something where there was nothing. You, too, have sent something into the world with even the slightest bit of uncertainty. It is this uncertainty displayed in front of a crowd, your inside and truths open to the world that is the struggle defined. When we have to decide between risk and safety, what essentially boils down to choosing ourselves or choosing something we are sure will be well-liked, we are struggling with personal style.
Because personal style is about owning who you are and giving that to the world, rather than shrinking back and giving the world something comfy and calm.
I think it’s one of the most crucial struggles we face. It's so very important, because it begs the question, “who are you when you have the chance to be seen,” a question we tend to answer safely (or avoid entirely,) but one that, when answered intentionally, changes everything.
We face it on a small scale when we get dressed for work, for a dinner party, for a presentation. Do I wear something I like, or do I wear something I’m sure other people will like?
And again when we type up an email, where we almost always play it safe.
Do I sound like myself, or do I type in a way that is sure to be safe and perceived well by others?
That’s really what it boils down to: perception by others.
And it's this consideration of others' perceptions that can totally crush our personal style. If I never thought in my creative process: “What if no one likes this? What if no one shows up? What if they think this is weird, futile, excessive?”… I know for certain I would take more risks and make more mistakes.
This is why the struggle of personal style is crucial, because it does not eradicate the doubt, the fear, the uncertainty, but asks in the face of all these weighted things: who are you? What are you made of? What are you made of when the world is watching? Who are you when others have the chance to see and to judge?
In art, we cannot avoid this confrontation, though it be painful and awkward and one that tempts us to turn the other way with clenched teeth and a deep desire for comfort.
In art, we are forced to come face to face with any dishonesty we have with ourselves, because it is so obvious when we create (dress, cook, write, design, speak, etc) from a place of dishonesty. It is so obvious and so awkward, and we know it, and so we either shy away from creating because we see our dishonesty, or we choose bravely to face it over and over again in efforts to drive out our fear and dishonesty.
You can guess which one is easier.
If we want to play it safe, all we need do is look around at what others are wearing, what other restaurants are cooking, what’s already selling, what people are pinning on Pinterest and liking on Instagram, because if we can find a way to be sure, we will choose this way naturally almost every time. If we can find confirmation that the world likes something, we will stick with this. We will not often risk a less-than-perfect review or humiliation, but in turn we will not often be in a position to gain an understanding of ourselves that has the power to transform the way we see this risk and this struggle of personal style.
I write this from recent experiences in creating where I’ve sat staring at a blank page and seen the struggle of personal style staring back at me demanding I choose between uncertainty and certainty. And so I look up other artists on Instagram and search through all the letterings and doodles I’ve pinned and admired on Pinterest, and I create from this safe place instead of the one that needs no research—the one inside of me. And it never fails, I am always less than satisfied with the finished product when I choose this route.
I think this is the same for all people everyday, though. I think every office worker who sends a mundane email feels this same sense of half-satisfaction (but is conditioned to ignore it). Every chef who serves traditional cheeseburgers from a place of people-pleasing rather than one of individuality feels the ache of choosing safety over honoring his call to create something new. Every woman who chooses jeans over a funky dress feels the tiny ping of settling for safety instead of the champagne bubbles of excitement over pushing the limits a little.
There is a time and a place for certainty, for guaranteeing that we are perceived well, but we must make the distinction and start choosing to face the struggle of personal style, rather than shrink back into our corners of comfort and certainty.
The struggle is crucial because it has the potential to produce something real, and the world does not need more happy, safe art and food and clothes and words. It needs things that push and pull, rally and inspire. It needs things that spark movement and ignite discussion.
Face your struggle of personal style, whatever it looks like for you. I urge you to choose you over them, to make a choice chocked full of uncertainty in front of the whole world. I challenge you to trust yourself, your personal style, take a risk, and put yourself in a place to reap some real rewards.