I think that one of the most important skills we must cultivate is our conviction in our own beliefs.
We must realise that we are just as entitled to our opinion of what it means to live well as anyone else, and have faith in our own ambitions, priorities and perspectives.
Nowadays, with the internet, and more specifically Facebook, and the tremendous capacity it has to tempt us into comparing ourselves with others, it has never been harder to operate a somewhat stubborn mind-set in maintaining confidence in our own choices and decisions.
FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a constant companion. On a daily basis, through social media, we can see what other people have and what they are doing, reflect on our own life, and wonder whether we should also be living that way. We can be guilty of taking stock too often, and I think there is a real danger that we might try to fix something in our lives that isn’t broken.
It is simply impossible for there to be a right or a wrong way to observe life, and to come to absolute conclusions about the best way to go about it. It takes only a bit of reading of ancient philosophy to see the contradictions that exist.
Indeed in my 4 years studying music at ACM, I was subject to completely opposing pieces of advice from several different tutors, all of whom were experienced, successful and good at what they did. This was made all the more confusing by the fact that they would all utter their words with absolute and sincere conviction, which made their advice hard to ignore.
But I guess this is it. If we are to choose a certain path and stick at it then sometimes we have to ignore good advice from good people. In fact, we have to ignore a lot of good advice from a lot of good people.
At some point we have to back ourselves. We have to trust that our intuitions for what will make us happy may be right, despite what other people may say, no matter how much you like, love them or respect them, or how much you have faith that they do indeed have your best interests at heart - which they probably do.
I have also found that there is a tendency to believe that highly-regarded and successful people have more right to their opinions than ourselves - I observed this in myself recently:
Driving past a gastro pub in Crystal Palace, I caught sight of the chalkboard outside which read:
“One cannot think well, love well or sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
And I thought - “What a load of bollocks.”
And then I saw the originator of the quote beneath: Virginia Woolf.
“Oh right,” I thought. “Virginia Woolf. She must know what she’s talking about then. Fair enough. She’s right, I’m wrong. Forgive me your greatness.”
But no. I have just as much right to my opinions and philosophies, and I need not be swayed from my standpoint just because I didn’t write A Room of One’s Own.
In truth, I don’t really know the ideas behind that quote. Anything taken out of context can lose its meaning, and I guess my initial resistance to it was a rejection to what I interpreted as scare-tactic-marketing, which seemed to suggest I needed a fancy slap-up meal to be happy. It may be that Woolf was simply making the point that good nutrition and a healthy body are necessary for a healthy mind.
But I shouldn’t have immediately abandoned and betrayed my own views on the statement purely on the basis that it’s author was one of the great writers of the 20th century.
Now of course, we are treading a thin line here between self belief/self-worth and narrow mindedness, and I believe the answer is compassion.
Our weakness in maintaining conviction in our approaches to life I think may come from a desire not to be narrow-minded or cynical; the alternative of which might be to accept another person’s approach as the “right” way, and betray all the thinking we have done up to this point, and the conclusions that this thinking has brought us to. And for me, this has the danger to lead to much self-doubt.
But by practising compassion - by putting ourselves in other people’s shoes - we can try to understand why they might have their particular point of view, and why it works for them. Or at least, we can observe the differences between our lives and theirs, and realise that it’s completely natural that we may not sing from the same hymn sheet. We can accept and respect their philosophies, whilst at the same time maintaining conviction in our own.
Our minds can of course be changed, and we must always try to be honest with ourselves. If we truly feel it may be beneficial for us to apply someone’s advice, or to adopt an aspect of their philosophy, then we mustn’t let our ego get in the way.
But there is a tidal wave of conflicting information out there, much of which will oppose our own approaches, and unless we stand strong and upright in the face of that wave, we will forever be getting knocked over, and we will not get anywhere.
We must listen carefully to others, mull over what they have to say, and reflect on whether it truly has any relevance to us. If it doesn’t, we mustn't be afraid to drop it and carry on.
Everyone in this world is approaching life from a unique perspective. No one really knows the answer. As I read in an article in The Guardian, a few months back, “everyone is just totally winging it all the time.”
We’ve all been around long enough to know what matters to us. We must trust ourselves, and not be afraid to be a little stubborn sometimes.