I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was a month away from my 41st birthday.
Usually when you get to that age inkless, you remain that way.
I’ve come to realize that my tattoos – nine as of this writing – represent something deeper to me than mere self-expression.
Instead, they are, in a real way, my personal Declaration of Independence.
What am I declaring my independence from?
From the need to seek the approval of others.
From the overwhelming desire to somehow “fit in” for bosses, co-workers, acquaintances, and anyone else who is not part of the small circle that makes up my immediate family and even smaller circle of true friends. In “fitting in” I now recognize that I sacrificed part of what made me, me and I sublimated the parts of my personality that others might criticize just so I could meet their expectations.
From the stress of always having to be on guard and wear a mask to avoid the fear of judgment.
From avoiding conflict at any cost, including my own self-respect.
It seems hard to believe, but I spent about 40 years like this.
Trying to fit in.
Afraid to express my true self for fear of judgment and condemnation.
Afraid to take professional risks because of fear of failure.
From the only perspective that matters, my own, my tattoos represent my statement to the world loudly proclaiming that I simply don’t care for their expectations and judgments. In short, I simply don’t give a fuck, I’m a free man, and I won’t live to please anyone else.
As Mark Manson pointed out in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, we have to choose what we give our fucks about because some things deserve our time and attention and some don’t.
And I realized somewhere around my 40th year that I gave way too many fucks about what other people thought of me, even though most didn’t really care about me or my well being. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I recognize it clearly now.
This manifested in different ways, but all of them included some form of avoiding conflict, spending my energy hiding my true thoughts to fit in, melting into the shadows in many social situations to avoid being noticed, and failing to take actionable steps to improve my situation and follow my own dreams.
I remained content with the status quo, even though it was an inferior way to live, and I felt stifled, like an automaton who existed purely to please others.
While I’m not the smartest person out there, I’m not stupid either. I am able to state my positions on a variety of issues and show why I believe my position is the correct one.
But, by and large, for about 40 years I held back. I gave a fuck. I was not allowing myself to be independent. Why? Fear of change. Fear of judgment. Fear of taking risks.
When I experienced this shift in my thinking, everything changed. I am now willing and ready to take risks, and seek them out. I don’t want to fit in; in fact, I want to be weird and considered “out there.” I identify with the dreamers and doers, including those considered outside the mainstream or on the fringe. In fact, these are my people, and perhaps they have always been. These are the people who are doing something, and also don’t give a fuck about what is expected or demanded of them.
These days, I hope that anyone who actually would judge or condemn me, does. Their opinions are like wisps of smoke rising from a candle flame, barely perceptible and quickly evaporating into nothingness.
I’ve developed enough life experience to understand that anyone who claims to have it all figured out is probably more lost and fucked up than anyone else is, including those they criticize for not fitting in. Many of those who present with their shit totally together are playing a grand hoax on the rest of us.
If conflict over important topics come, I now welcome it. I don’t seek it out, but I’m not going to avoid it to keep the peace. I simply don’t give a fuck.
My tattoos, which all, in their own way, carry deep meaning to me, and me alone, represent this Declaration of Independence, and it took me some time to understand why all of a sudden I felt the urge to get one after the other. After all, they do hurt and can be expensive. Under my old ways of thinking, I would be crushed when anyone expressed to me any disapproval of my choices, especially for something personal like a tattoo. I embrace the ink in my skin as symbols of freedom from the fear of judgment. In fact, one of my recent tattoos I put on my wrist where I can’t hide it. Don’t like it? I don’t care. I won’t give it a second thought.
Sometimes a tattoo is just a tattoo. Sometimes it’s a symbol of independence from a form of slavery, which is exactly what seeking approval and validation from others is.
I hope one of the lessons I impart to my kids so they don’t waste forty years is to blaze their own trails without fear.
To accept being considered weird if that’s what it takes to follow their dreams.
To understand that if someone is human it means they have their own past issues, present problems, and anxieties about the future, so it is unnecessary to stress about their opinions or judgments. Those who you want so much to seek approval from are no better than you.
To think for themselves, even if their opinions are not popular.
To declare their independence early in life and never look back.
And, if they want to get tattoos, get them. I want them to live life on their own terms.