Don’t be a Sellout: A Guide to Staying Real




Being true to yourself is not easy. In magazines, we’re shown images of flawless airbrushed bodies. Luxury and celebrity lifestyles are worshipped. In our culture we’re judged for what we own and what we do. Not who we are.

It’s hard to remain true to yourself when our culture encourages competition. I don’t think competition is a bad thing necessarily. Our economy’s livelihood depends on it. The problem is we define everyone as winners or losers. He’s a janitor, he must be a loser. She’s a fortune 500 executive, she must be a winner.

We judge people based on their outward appearances, the cars they drive and the restaurants they frequent. Have you ever been nervous to approach a person because they have a more important title than you? Have you ever avoided someone because they looked homeless?

Judging others based on their appearances and job titles is kind of inevitable though, as backwards as it may be. After all, it’s the first thing we see, and the first thing we hear. But I think we abuse this system.

In a perfect world, we would judge people based on the contents of their character (or not judging at all, for that matter). I think the more we practice doing this, the more comfortable we become with ourselves. The more we accept ourselves, the more we accept others as well.

Because the truth is, the level of your happiness is exactly proportional to the amount you’ve sold yourself out. The amount of contentment you experience is directly related to how authentically you’re living.

The main source of this problem is:

The Domestication of Humans


When we are born, we’re completely authentic. We’re wild. We think, but not in symbols (words). We know what’s right and wrong, but it’s not based on knowledge. It’s based on our integrity.

As we grow up, we’re taught (through language) what’s right and what’s wrong. What’s acceptable and what isn’t. We start to think of the world in symbols. Instead of experiencing life directly, we have series of thoughts and judgments about it. Thinking is essential to our success as humans and much of our lives depend on it. It’s allowed us to build cities, create technology and all sorts of conveniences.

The problem with thinking in symbols, is we judge everything. We judge ourselves. We judge the things we do right and the things we do wrong. We start to want everything we do to be right, so we create an image of perfection.

We’ve Sold Ourselves Out to Knowledge

I’ve talked here before about the importance of not taking things personally. That’s because what other people do isn’t about you, it’s about them. Well, in the same way, if you want to regain your authenticity, you have to not take your thoughts personally. You have to stop identifying with your thoughts. Because your thoughts are not you. Your spirit is not an idea or a concept.

Sometimes to stay true to yourself you have to:

  • Stop caring about being defined by erroneous status symbols. Such as: job titles, credentials, college degrees, and the contents of your resume.
  • Not care about how much money you have, how productive you are, or how popular you are. Instead you care about how much you control your time and how much you own your own mind.
  • No longer live your life based on a template.
  • Spend your time in unconventional ways (like long-term world travel) that cause other people to disapprove. The reason they don’t approve is probably because you’re forcing them to question their own values.
  • Stop caring about what other people think.

I admit that it’s not always easy for me to stay true to myself. I often find myself editing what I say because I’m afraid of what other people will think. I find myself trying to make a certain impression, because I want people to view me a certain way. I want to be seen as someone “who matters” or something who is “interesting” or “important.” Every time I do this, I feel like I give up a little part of my soul. Every time I act a certain way for the sake of popularity, I sell myself out a little more.

It’s not easy being authentic. You have to be able to take some harsh criticism sometimes. That’s because authenticity isn’t popular; “fitting in” is. But have you ever noticed the most successful, admired people are the ones who have vehemently gone against the grain? Those that have blazed their own trail and followed their own path? I’ve noticed this. That’s why I live every day consciously following my heart as much as possible.

To help you live more based on the way you want to live and stop sacrificing your integrity, here’s what I’ve learned. I hope this will help you in some way.

  1. Reject the idea that you can’t be consistently happy. Yes, it’s actually possible to be consistently happy. If you don’t take other people’s actions personally or your own thoughts personally, you can be consistently happy. The easiest way to do this is to stop caring.
  2. Live based on your own values and not for the approval of others. We all do things to please others, that’s natural. It’s part of the give and take of life. What isn’t natural is living your life based on the expectations of others and society as a whole. If you can stop caring about what other people think, your happiness will increase instantly. This means having the courage to be corky, embracing your inner geek and be brave enough to just be weird. What one person thinks is weird is completely normal to someone else. It’s all about perspective.
  3. Work toward your own goals and not to further someone else’s agenda. This one of the hardest ones to follow because many of us have no other choice but to work for someone else. You can start building a business now though, one day at a time. Within a year or two you can quit your day job. This is something that’s very important to me that I struggle with daily. I hate going to work having someone pay for my time. But ultimately it’s a temporary sacrifice I have to make right now (if I don’t want to be homeless). I work daily to try to build this blog so I can fund the ownership of my time. What can you do to afford the ownership of your time? Can you find a place where what you love to do, what you’re good at, and a viable source of income intersect?
  4. Reject popularity as a primary source of happiness. It’s true that everyone wants to be liked. It’s a basic instinct of life. But if you can’t be happy without dressing a in the latest fashion, driving a mercedes or owning a louis voughton purse, that’s a problem. Who owns your happiness, your or some brand? Living based on a certain lifestyle is fine, as long as that’s what resonates with you. If you’re following a path, it’s not your path. (Although sometimes a dot is better than a path.)
  5. Make freedom and authenticity your highest ideal. It’s difficult staying authentic. Illusory fears have an uncanny way of getting in the way of us. That’s why it’s important to make being authentic you’re highest aim. If you can make considering this value an auto-response it will be easier for you when it comes time to make a decision. When I think about the value of being authentic vs. conforming/popularity it helps me to realize what matters most me. It gives me the extra push to choose what will make me sleep easier at night.
  6. Follow your integrity. Integrity, conscience, intuition, whatever you want to call it, listen to it. Whenever you make a decision, follow your integrity. This seems like such common sense, that it’s not even worth stating. But the truth is, we have a tendency to value logic more than how we feel.
  7. Stop trying. Probably the most important part to being authentic is that you don’t try to be authentic. If you’re constantly thinking about being true to yourself, you’re trying too hard. Real authenticity is about being natural. You’re not trying, you’re just being.

This is just a starting point of things that have helped me live more authentically. Everyone’s path to staying real (or unreal) will be different.

Have you ever sold yourself out to try be more popular? To try to fit in? What do you do to stay authentic? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Jon Bishop September 19, 2008 at 12:43 pm

I kind of agree with you.

What a lot of people forget, but you mentioned, “everyone wants to be liked. It’s a basic instinct of life” and I think it’s really the core of our existence. We are social creatures. We could have 20 mercedes and 50 louis voughton purses but with no one to share it with, we’re hollow.

Our clicks and groups that we create and try to become part of is just natural. We’ve always been tribal in nature.

All of that said. There is nothing wrong with having the sharpest rock on the campsite or the coolest sun glasses on the block. We’re social creatures by nature and we should continue to live as such.

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"Motivate Thyself" September 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm

@Jonathan: “I’ve talked here before about the importance of not taking things personally. That’s because what other people do isn’t about you, it’s about them.”

It’s hard for many people to not take things personally, but, as you pointed out, it’s a waste of time to do so.

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rwalker September 19, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Howdy, Jonathan.

One of the goals I set for myself while I was doing this kind of work was: making the effort to be myself (which partly means being true to myself) in any and every situation. To not be a different “me” with this person, and then a different “me” with that person. I think most of us aren’t really aware of how many “us-es” there are in our lives. It’s almost like we create a custom version of ourselves for each person we know. No wonder it becomes so easy to lose sight of who we really are.

I think that paying attention to how we act around the different people in our lives (and especially why) can be extremely illuminating.

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Julie September 19, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Congratulations, Jonathon, because you’ve succeeded in realizing what it took me “forever” to know. While I understood it intellectually, unlearning a lifetime of stuff took, well, a lifetime. (Knowing is different than truly KNOWing.) One thing you said struck me, though:

“In a perfect world, we would judge people based on the contents of their character (or not judging at all, for that matter). I think the more we practice doing this, the more comfortable we become with ourselves. The more we accept ourselves, the more we accept others as well.”

Essentially, I agree with you, with these twists: First, you must truly and fully accept yourself before you can accept others. Because then there’s no need for any judgement at all. A judgement is, inherently, a comparison and when comparing ourselves to anyone else, we’re seeing differences. Judgements are negative, and it all unravels from there.

I very much like what you said here: “If you don’t take other people’s actions personally or your own thoughts personally, you can be consistently happy.”

Happiness is a conscious decision. We can be happy, literally, every second of our lives. The trick is getting the hang of it! ;)

Great job! I applaud you.

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Mike Stop September 19, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Each one of us contains within us infinite potential. We each have the choice of how we would use this potential.

Would we ever say that a recovering drug addict was a sell-out? Would we ever call a class clown who as quieted to help the entire class to excel a sell-out? Would we ever call a husband and wife who compromised to create a happy home sell-outs?

No, I don’t believe we would.

If it is your desire to change who you are, for whatever reason, you have that right. If you want to succeed in any aspect of life, be it politics, business, art, or relationships, you must change. Thinking only of yourself not only shows strong character, it also shows selfishness and egocentrism.

Yes, change is constant.
Yes, you have permission to change.
No, you are not a sell-out.

That said, if it is in your nature to, as Jon puts it, “stop caring what other people think”, do that! Be that! But give others the freedom to change.

In as much as we have the right to separate from the seemingly destitute and artificial systems we see around us, we also have the right to participate in those systems if in them we see truth.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan, however. Be true to yourself. Just remember that you can still aspire to be rich or popular at the same time. After all, the aspiration for a lot of friends is just as much a part of you as anything else.

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Peter James September 20, 2008 at 5:11 am

Great post. My only thought is about the negative overtones of your approach. For instance, ‘Reject the idea you can’t be consistently happy’ should really be ‘Accept the idea you CAN be consistently happy’.

Other than that, I think you have hit the nail on the head. In simpler terms, it’s a lot easier to be the judge yourself, than live in fear at what all the other judges might be thinking.

http://yinvsyang.com/

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JJ September 20, 2008 at 12:39 pm

I agree with an earlier comment about humans being social animals. It’s natural for us to compare ourselves with others when we are put in a social environment. When we are born, we don’t know the measures by which societal standings are determined, but as we grow older and learn, we realize more and more that, unfortunately, material things and titles are what gains respect and stature in our society.

It’s definitely a challenge to unlearn the way we’ve been programmed, but if you can define who you are according to your own values, and stick to that everyday, then it becomes easier to stop caring what others think.

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Evan September 21, 2008 at 5:26 am

Hi Johnathon,

I also agree that we are social critters.

On competition you say, “Our economy’s livelihood depends on it.” Would this kind of economy ending really be such a bad thing?

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bradly September 21, 2008 at 6:06 am
Shawn Michel de Montaigne September 21, 2008 at 8:27 pm

A very good article, one I agree with wholly.

Speaking of wholly, I’d recommend strongly J. Krishnamurti’s “A Wholly Different Way of Living” to those who liked this blog post. It’s a radical way of looking at life, one that has been suppressed by the powers-that-be for centuries. Check it out.

Good blog here. I look forward to dropping in again soon.

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Success Professor September 21, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Great article.

I love your list of things you need to be “true to yourself”. I also love the first 4 points on your 7 lessons, however I have a real problem with number 5: “Make freedom and authenticity your highest ideal.”

I don’t think either of these should be your highest ideal. While I would agree that authenticity is important, especially as part of living with integrity. Freedom, however, doesn’t need to be an ideal. Just as you mention that you can be happy in any circumstances, this can include when you don’t have freedom. Freedom is great, but it doesn’t need to be an ideal.

Instead, I would suggest that LOVE can be your ideal. Love can (but doesn’t need to) include freedom, but it necessarily includes authenticity and integrity.

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Seamus Anthony September 21, 2008 at 9:33 pm

Great post Jonathan. I must say I have certainly found that not giving a shit what people think of you is a fine way to live. I wear whatever, say whatever and do whatever. My only concern is that I am not hurting anybody.

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Kent @ The Financial Philosopher September 23, 2008 at 6:59 am

Great post! As we “learn” social conventions and language, our true self, which exists in pure form as children, becomes “covered.”

Several notable philosophers and many Taoist beliefs teach that “something comes from nothing” and “nothing comes from something.” When our being moves back toward “nothingness,” aka “non-being,” then our self becomes uncovered.

“One’s own self is well hidden from one’s own self; of all mines of treasure, one’s own is the last to be dug up.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“You spent the first half of your life becoming somebody. Now you can work on becoming nobody, which is really somebody. For when you become nobody there is no tension, no pretense, no one trying to be anyone or anything. The natural state of the mind shines through unobstructed — and the natural state of the mind is pure love.” Ram Dass

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Desire September 24, 2008 at 6:57 am

I love you blog…keep writing the TRUTH

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FreddyTrevino September 21, 2011 at 9:05 am

I may be lost to the perversions of capitalism but I flirt with the other side of this and these ideas. If you encountered a knight who had a sword (and you knew that sword was the property of satan or some terrible dragon) wouldn’t you bestow additional respect after considering that he may have slain it to get it? Is that materialism? Maybe a Ferrari wouldn’t qualify as the sword in this example but could a nice suite? I watch a lot of football and notice that many times despite bad play the better team finds a way to win “winners find a way to win”. Valuing one human over another is a losing proposition but if you were tasked with having to make a ghastly choice and knowing nothing else except the vocation of the two people of which only one gets to live would u choose the doctor or the janitor? I generally agree with your article if it doesn’t dismiss that good people can be successful too. You have to “get in the pit” and you have to “try and love someone”. Authenticity? Tell that to the non poisonous snake whose colors impersonate its deadlier cousin so it can survive? Call it fake or camouflage but nature if full of successful unauthentic species. Try, try, try is all we can really say if you ask me.

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Sean January 1, 2013 at 5:26 pm

And here I was starting to believe that the internet is devoid of anything SANE to read. I’ve never been so glad to be wrong. Human domestication is a perfect term for what has happened to us. If you havn’t already seen it, you might enjoy the documentary “Surviving Progress”. It deals with those sneaky issues nobody ever thinks about like human domestication (or running 21st century software on 60,000 year-old hardware, as the film puts it). And of course the big one: anthropocentrism. Happy New Year and remember, we can’t begin to heal our insanity if we don’t acknowledge it first!

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