“You Do You!” … and Then What Do You Do?
Over the past 10 years, we went from “You do You, you be yourself”, to “You do You, whatever dude”. Once the cornerstone of support, acceptance and inclusivity, the phrase “You do You” is now less a program than a shrug. Whatever floats your boat.
This is so emblematic of our Not-So-Roaring 20s. A bit muddled, a bit jaded, a bit faded. Look how we cheer at nostalgia. Barbie, Oppenheimer? Technically excellent movies, but also quasi-messianic. And a universal appeal, to every generation, in every region.
Pure nostalgia? The 50s, the 60s are now more Mythology than History. Nostalgia is everywhere, in fashion, music, technologies.
But what does it tell us about ourselves?
I think that we relish an idealised period, for some their childhood maybe, but for everyone else, a sense of purpose, of drive. Times gone by, when ideal societies and lives seemed possible. Around the corner even.
We even went back to the movie theatres for that. We want to project ourselves in TikTok, absolutely. But also in Barbieland. For the spark. For the sense of purpose. True, overall we mainly seem satisfied. Apart from the US, suicide rates are mostly stabilising, so is our happiness. The last decade has been more “Whatever dude, You do You” and trolling, than actually building. More “You do You” than “Be what you Want to Be”.
We lost individual momentum, and not because of onset of old age or some generational genetic defect. We all did, whether X-ers, Millennials or Gen Z.
Maslow’s traditional pyramid of needs puts self-actualisation as our highest need, after transcendence. “Be all you can Be”. As a step further, “Be what you Want to Be” eliminates any idea of limitation. You may not reach it, but the want itself is momentum. An aspiration, a dream maybe, but also an open horizon. We all carry many horizons that create multiple wants, which in turn propels us.
So, let’s go deeper into these individual horizons. Not a Vision, but visions. How to articulate, combine them and keep individual momentum going. Finally identify why this took a backseat in the last decade.
From “You do You” to “Be all you can Be”, not just “whatever”
Grand visionaries helped move our societies forward. For the best of them, the message is truly universal, holistic. These visionaries are why we now revere the 50s and 60s. Just think of these years, and a picture made of sounds, words, colours pops up in our head. They sit there, in the distance, the horizons of the grand visions.
The same goes for ourselves. It does not need to be grand visions, but we know what we would like, want, or are happy with in our lives. These are our visions, our personal take on our life. Visions, because they are our projection into our own future. This is what we want to be. This is where we want to go.
To realise our own individual potential, we need more than just being ourselves. We need a vision of where we want to go, and a picture of what that looks like.
“You do You” is a strong starting point. But it is not a vision.
It does not have an intrinsic dynamic. The horizon is fixed. And, that horizon is actually multifaceted, built of many visions in many of our fundamental needs.
For example, we can start by a rather wide vision, like “I want to lead a happy personal life”, and hence, I need to have a good relation with my partner. For this to happen, I need to have house. Little by little, each individual need gets a vision to be able to exist, and in itself creates a picture of how it will look like. An horizon. Each personal vision has an horizon.
Without vision and horizon, life is just a succession of random needs
In Balancing the Chaos, I suggested that our own life is very much like a complex galaxy of needs. Our many needs act like spheres in a planetary system, orbiting, interacting, intersecting, mutually exclusive or inclusive. Each sphere of life (need) has its own orbit and “wants”, its own horizon and vision. For each sphere (need), ambitions, dreams, satisfactions are the momentum.
This is the Orrery of Life, your mechanical, mental, representation of life.
The momentum will be different in each need, as we will also invest different degrees of energy in each of them. This depends on the intensity of our need: the want. We may crave something, dream of it, or be satisfied, content …
This means that we – consciously or unconsciously – queue, prioritise, control and overlay orbiting needs. This system is always in movement, from imbalance to balance. And, as for in any satellite, without momentum, the need’s orbit eventually decays.. and the sphere crashes.
Life is a system.
If our life would not be like a system, then the different energies will push and pull us in different directions at random. We would soon be torn between seemingly antagonistic wants that actually are just a part of our life. Our life would be like we do not have a say in it, as the needs make it seem random.
The constant tweaking of hopes, dreams, satisfaction, contentment is life’s momentum.
Each individual vision and horizon in each individual need contributes to my life’s overall vision and horizon
To “Be all you can Be”, beyond what you already are, you need the momentum that your vision will generate.
For this vision to exist, you map your different needs and create an individual vision for each. Then, you visualise this and hence, create an horizon.
Let’s take a practical example.
In my social sphere, I want recognition. So, I plan to win recognition at work. For that, I think I need a CEO title. In this example, my vision is recognition and my horizon is getting a CEO name card. Now, to do that, I will spend less time with my family. My investment in the family sphere decreases, and so does my emotional sphere (need) suffer. I changed my vision of life in one sphere including the horizon I painted for it.
My life’s vision is the combination of all the individual visions. My overall horizon is the combination of the individual horizons. For each sphere, I need both a vision and an horizon, and anticipate the outcome of change of each new impulse. That is the mechanism that I described in my article “The Price We Pay”.
There is no judgement behind the priority you put on your needs. To use our earlier example, you may decide that getting recognition to you means to get a CEO title. That is your vision. The reason behind your need for recognition, however, is something else. The ‘why’ you prioritise is your motivation, and will decide the intensity of the momentum you put behind this need.
Each horizon is a dot within your overall life’s horizon. Your horizon must to be visualised in as much detail as possible. This does not require projection skills. The mere existence of your vision creates its own momentum.
A vision does not mean “epic”
The word vision does not necessarily imply epic, legendary, world shattering. Vision is what you want it to be. As mundane or as epic as you wish. It is just a question of impulse, momentum given. Different types of vision will create simply different ripples on your horizon.
Your vision may be to eat a croissant. It could be the best croissant ever, in the best location ever, today. It could also just be any croissant, whenever.
A vision can be explicit, implicit, complicated, ambitious, or simple.
It is often misunderstood that Vision only exists at some rarefied layer of our lives, for example 10 years of retreat in the desert or satori. A vision can just be an individual aspiration at an individual atomic level. And, as all of these visions interact, combine, clash or align, it creates your mental world.
The combination of our visions actually allows us to sense something more than the sum of the individual parts, and to dream up horizons beyond the sum of our horizons.
So, let’s go back to the Orrery of Life.
If our life looks like an orrery with many different spheres orbiting us (emotional, psychological need, financial, etc…), then our overall life’s vision is but the combination of the vision we have within each of these individual spheres. In turn, each vision in each sphere creates as well an horizon. And out of all these individual horizons we project for ourselves the Horizon of our life. This system needs to be constantly in motion. This continuous motion is the actual complete backdrop of our mental well-being.
If the 2020s “You do You” created only a static image, than this composite horizon is what we should endeavour, to get moving again.
How was the momentum lost in the 2020s?
“You do You” has been the soundtrack of the last decade.
“Be what you Want to Be” seems, sounds less and less possible. And despondency grows. The nostalgia, the yearning for “Golden Years” flourishes.
However, trying to apply a remedy without having a minimum idea of the causes, and not just the symptoms, is dangerous. These are some ideas on what I think are the possible causes for the loss of momentum in the 2020s:
1. A weakening sense of global destiny,
2. a scattering of the self into multiple digital selves, and
3. a disconnect from the Vision.
We live in a fragmented world with little sense of shared destiny
In the early 2000s, we have been given so many tools, means and resources that enabled our own individualities to be. To do You.
Together with these tools, we were given silos of truth, silos of life. We learnt that we could drive companies, societies even, through remote work, meetings, controls. We can be globally successful, influence the world, from our kitchen – as influencers demonstrate every day.
This is as much technological, as a cultural evolution. “You do You” is economically, culturally, psychologically the norm.
This fragmented world means individual fragmented realities
To match this fragmented reality, our individual personality implodes into multiple persona in each social and digital sphere, but also in the emotional and physical spheres these persona require. This is a problem for us. We know our own unicity, our own exception, but how to project ourselves if reality I hardly palpable.
Personal Visions, not macro-visions
Oh, there are Visions out there. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos… individuals with their own individual horizon. Still, they decide which vaccine gets priority, who can go in space, … They do set the overall horizon of humanity, although their visions are actually mutually exclusive, so we would have to choose a “camp”.
So, to “Be what you Want to Be”, we need to overcome these challenges. And when we are setting the priorities in our needs, we need to be able to picture the horizon of our vision, not the vision of others. Like this, we will be able to patch up a reality, which is more and more fragmented and elusive.
To take back our example, what does recognition mean? What is the yardstick, how does it look? Is it different or similar at work, at home or on Reddit? Do I need the 3 of them concurrently?
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“Be what you Want to Be”
Who can boast to perfectly know what he/she wants to be, even it is a single truth? Absolute clarity does not exist, not even in a 20/20 hindsight. It is true of any time in our life, at any age. But, even if we can only grope forward, it is a start.
We never start from scratch. Some of our needs, of our spheres, have been tried and tested. We know them inside-out. Others are more fuzzy, some vague idea, a foggy horizon rather than a sharp picture. Some of our needs may even be totally unknown, until revealed. And of course, some will always remain unconscious.
We can start to be what we want to be now. That is just enough to create a ripple effect.
“You do You” is a basic requirement. However much you have to fight for it, to secure it, ultimately, it is a diagnostic: this is what you are.
An excellent proxy to this situation is Michael Moorcock’s “Dancers at the End of Times”. Society has exhausted itself and Earth resources. Only a handful of human archetypes remain living in some digital/holographic recreation. A loop of ever repeating entertainments, an eternal Dance of the Damned. You Are You.
Some parts of Social Media may already look like Moorcock’s End Times.
Even “Be all you can Be” creates unspoken barriers: be all you can be and if you can’t be it, then, well, /shrug, good try.
However unattainable it may seem, or it may be, only “Be what you Want to Be” can create the necessary dynamic.
Visions are ever changing; they are variables, not constants
We sometimes feel that a Vision is some eternal Truth. There is something reassuring about it, something that appeals to our sense of History. Our narrative. Is it though?
“As far back as I remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”; even the iconic introduction of the movie Goodfellas just sketches for us a gangster. Which one? Pimp, dealer, conman, … crypto-king? This sentence is an aspiration, strong enough to propel the movie. What it precisely means evolves during the movie, contingent of age, period, circumstances.
This is what a vision is. It is a variable of our life, not a constant. The category of spheres/needs, their type, may remain constant – like feeding, or security – but within each of these categories, the only constant is change as we are continuously adjusting, tweaking, reprioritising.
Everything about “Be what you Want to Be” continuously changes in content and in priority, sometimes minutely, sometimes radically. And each individual vision is but a part of your total Vision. All the “what we want to be” to our family, friends, society or ourselves, is but a part of the sum which is our life.
For example, you can be a gangster for the career, the thrill, the power, the status, the money, or for a libertarian ideal. You may wish all of these together, grade them differently, or not at all. You can see yourself as Al Capone, Robin Hood, or Bonnot.
Our global Horizon continuously adjusts.
Our individual visions exist within larger and smaller frames
To “Be what you Want to Be”, there is no true alternative than to consider what surrounds you, the macro and micro-layers of our lives.
There are macro-layers that shape Humanity. The big ones being political beliefs, philosophies and religions. These create momentums that draw us in, either by swooping us up or on the contrary, giving us something to fight against. No Wolf of Wall Street without Woodstock. And vice versa.
Macro-layers can define our own individual relevance. Each society gives us some default sense of drive, progress, purpose. Where the herd goes matters to us, herd animals. Or social animals if you prefer.
Since the early 20s, “what we want to be” is essentially an individual project. We are shown, proposed, sold, individual combinations of visions as the default recipe for happiness and success. We should thrive in individuality. This is a reality we cannot ignore, however much we may wish to react against it. This is our macro layer.
“Be what you Want to Be” is also driven – and for a larger part than we may wish – by physical, mechanical, logical realities. Not because we must limit our visions, but because we can only think them up within these limits. I can only read that much, I can only go that much without sleep. The way our nerve impulses work, the impact of brain hemispheres, cultural programming, all shape our vision, as much as grand ideas. These are micro-layers.
All of these apparent obstacles can contribute to the momentum created by simply thriving to “Be what you Want to Be”, more than “You do You”.
If we feel that we should do something about despondency and cynicism in our times, we should start by DREAMING BIGGER than the “You do You” of the last decade.
From there, “Be all you can Be”, and finally to “Be what you Want to Be”. That was the actual momentum that drove the 50s and 60s, in science, social, political, religious fields.
The 2020s accelerate everything: in just 3 years, we went from blockchain back to gold bars, cyberwars to trench wars. It looks, it feels like we are burning through projects, ideas, ideals. There is no North Star.
And so we look around in some puzzlement, and not without a few shrugs. Meh.
Individually, collectively, we juggle visions at different paces, hours, weeks, months or years. At our human level, work, family, age, finances, emotions, love, hobbies… overlap, cross, move at different speeds.
To get back that feeling of movement, drive, aspiration, we need first to get back to basics and lock the visions in each of our needs, reset the Vision that groups all of them into a coherent self, Me, and repaint a new Horizon, the dynamic combination of the individual horizons they create.
If our individual horizons seem to be ever moving, then there is a higher chance that we will want, expect even, the global Horizon of Humanity to change as well.
Else you will just do you.