Humans like order. We prefer patterns in routine over volatile shifts in behavior. We like being able to have a concise definition for our emotions, circumstances and a basic “casting” for each person in the movie of our lives: He’s the friend I call up when I’m feeling sad to cheer me up, or She’s the friend I go to when I need to be told straight up to stop feeling sorry for myself.
Animals live by a more unconscious, primitive version of this — but by nature, they stick to it. Because in their world, order means survival.
Human beings most petrify this inner-animal in other human beings when they shake the order up. People in general don’t like when others are inconsistent – one day kind, the next cunning – and will be wary of whoever acts as such.
Yet this wariness makes shaking shit up the much more vital and rewarding. Why?
Because when you shake shit up, you are unpredictable. Alternatively, when you play only one note, however well, you become banal.
Shake Shit Up: Why You Must Never Let Labels Become You
You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.
– Richard Feynman
The rise and fall of playing well on one note goes like this: first people sing praises about your talent, then they notice how you’re only consistent in one small strand of that talent, and then they tire of you and move on, disinterested in anything more you do.
When you commit to being unpredictable, though, expect people to try their best to figure you out.
The clearest sign of this figuring out is when one-word adjectives are allocated: “You’re optimistic“; “she’s pessimistic“. It satisfies your peers to have an idea of who you are — to think they’ve got you pinned down. Even more so, it satisfies your superiors. If they have a clear sense of who you are in one concise description, somehow to them their superiority is legitimized. They’ve got you all worked out.
Or so they believe.
Think of Meryl Streep; everyone has been trying to pin her down for years. “How does she do it!” they beg. “How can every role be so different?” Some people call Streep a great actress, Trump calls her overrated, and Goldie Hawn calls her “a Martian.” I call her powerful.
Because the one common denominator is that throughout her career she’s been plastered by the public and her peers with labels, good or bad. She’s either one thing, or she isn’t — but what is consistent is that she is something. Everyone has an opinion about her. And as Oscar Wilde rightfully worded it, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
It is always the most unpredictable people who attract a similar level of attention. Nobody talks much of the painter after their first exhibition if they continue to produce different variations of the same work over and over. Or the singer who records ten love albums all dedicated to the same person.
So it is important to keep shaking shit up.
Because otherwise, you will start to identify yourself with the opinions of others. They will creep into your psyche and become you. As soon as someone calls you one thing, if it’s good, you will try your hardest to live up to it, or if it’s bad, you’ll spend your life in fear of being called it again. Therefore simply refuse to let other people’s one-word descriptions of you become your reality.
People are going to try and pack you neatly in a box sealed with a label of their choosing.
Never let them.