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Q&A for Teens: Should I Conform?
Q&A for Teens

Q&A for Teens: Should I Conform?

All the popular kids are one way and I’m another. Should I change myself to be like them?


Dear Lauren,

I’m a really quiet kid, but I know all the popular kids are loud and fun. I know I should change myself to be more like them, but I’m not sure how to do it.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

I have lots of different kinds of friends. I have loud, peppy friends, and I have quiet, serious, gentle friends. I love all my friends, and all of their personalities. Truth be told, I don’t think I could be around my very lively friends ALL the time – it would be too exhausting! I sometimes enjoy their energy, and I sometimes enjoy the calm quietness of my more low-key friends. Every friend of mine is different, and I love them all.

I don’t think trying to become like some other kind of person is the best use of your life.

My own conformity story was very short-lived. It lasted all of two days. Here’s how it went:

My friend loved unicorns. She had everything unicorn. Unicorn stickers, unicorn figurines, unicorn mugs…. The truth is, I don’t remember if it really was unicorns that she loved – that’s how unimportant it is to me now. It was something sweet and gentle like that – either kittens, or angels – or maybe it was hearts? Or stars? Anyway, I decided (I was in fifth grade at the time) I also wanted something special that I really loved. Because I wanted to be just like my friend. I wanted to think of something sweet, something dear to me, something gentle and beautiful…. So I thought and I thought. I also wanted to be just like my friend, and to have an item, a thing, an entity, that I loved.

So, in my non-conformist brain, trying to conform, I finally decided on the item that would thenceforth be dear to me. And I decided on: HIPPOPOTAMI! Yes, I spent the next two conformist days drawing hippopotamuses. I looked for stickers of hippopotami, I tried to remember songs about hippopotami, and, most of all, I kept trying to tell myself, over and over again, how much I loved hippopotamuses.

But, after two days, I realized: I really could care less about hippopotami! And I also realized: why in the world do I need one thing to like, anyway? How about liking everything, and the varied beauty in the entire world? In other words, how about approaching life in my own, genuine way, instead of just trying to be like my friend?

Speaking of conformity: we have, on our street, a dysfunctional owl. Every morning at 10 a.m., and every afternoon at 3 p.m., it hoots. Strange hours for an owl! And every time I hear it, I think to myself, “Man, that is one dysfunctional owl.” But, on the other hand, I think: “Hm! That’s kind of neat! That owl may not act like other owls, but I sure like hearing an owl call without having to wake up in the middle of the night to wait for it and strain my ears for it and be a wreck the next day because of staying up for it.” That owl may not act like other owls, but he’s not hurting anyone, and he’s actually giving me pleasure.

Who’s to say that being loud is more fun? Who’s to say that being fun is what you have to be, anyway?

If God created you, then He wanted you to be just like you.

My advice to you: just be you. If God created you, then He wanted you to be just like you. Yes, of course, we all want to grow and change, to a certain extent. But, to a certain extent, we have our own personality, that God created us with, and we shouldn’t feel the need to hide that uniqueness. I think the main task of teenagers is to learn to love their particular personality and their unique approach to life.

Of course, there is a constraint to all of this: God. If I feel like murdering someone, I can’t just claim, “Yeah. That’s just the way I was born. I’m a murderess.” Of course we have to ask ourselves: is what I’m doing good in the eyes of God? Is what I’m doing going to be of service to my fellow man? Is what I’m doing going to make me a better person? So long as God would agree with your being the way you are and acting the way you’ve chosen to act, you can just relax and be yourself.

If God had wanted you to be someone else, He would have created two of them. If God created you, if you exist, then you are meant to be as you are.

A couple of weeks ago was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As part of their coverage of the event, National Public Radio featured an interview with an African American professor who spoke a perfect English. And he expressed dismay that African Americans feel compelled to speak in an Ebonics dialect and with improper grammar, if they don’t want to be ridiculed by their peers. His message was clear (and eloquently stated, in his perfect English!): you do not have to feel compelled to conform to what everyone else is doing, if another avenue is just as positive or, even, a better road.

We’re in the midst of the High Holiday season. And the main theme is positive change and growth. If you really want to implement positive change and growth in your life, it won't happen by just becoming like everyone else. To change you have to believe in yourself as a strong, capable agent.

Trying to be like everyone else doesn't engender positive change and growth. We become better people by thinking, before every action: this thing I am about to do, whether everyone else is doing it or not, would God want me to do this? Does this bring more good into the world? Will it make me a better person? Will it help others? Is this an act of service?

Only once you’ve achieved that secure center of yourself – once you’re confident with being yourself, then you can start looking around at other people and considering, as part of positive change and growth, “What parts of his or her personality do I want to maybe incorporate into my own persona, in order to do more good in my life?  What parts of his or her personality do I want to maybe incorporate into my own persona, in order to be a better me?”  But the point is to be a better you, not just to be like your friends.

Don’t go changin’ to try and please someone else. Just be true to yourself, and always try to do the right thing.

September 8, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Ella, November 5, 2013 3:01 PM

Don't change your personality

First of all, you can't really change it, not really. Second, there are so many ways in which society tells you to conform, so why would you yourself choose to conform in such a silly way, no less? High school is so small, it seems like everyone is either this or that "type", and nothing else. But there's so much more to the world and people and personalities than the few things you notice in high school or the few things people choose to show of their real selves in high school. You'll get out there, meet new people, and you'll see, there are so many beautiful differences. Life is so much better this way.

(3) Anonymous, September 10, 2013 9:13 PM

LOVE this answer! thanks Lauren!!

So true, awesome advice!

(2) Simcha, September 9, 2013 1:22 AM

Be Yourself as Long as it is Positive!!!

This is the best advice!!! Just be yourself as long as it is positive. I was taught by my parents (may they rest in peace) to have an independent mind. There are members of my synagogue who like to drink alcoholic beverages in order to be happy and joyful. They try to convince me as well. I simply refuse!!! I believe in naturally being happy and joyful, not by drinking in order to escape from problems. My status in the synagogue is low due to my independence and refusal to be like them and make a fool out of myself by drinking but who cares? I am proud of myself for not being like the others who act in a negative way. Thanks to my independent way of thinking, I never smoked and never drank alcoholic beverages except wine for Kiddush on Shabbat and the holidays which even then I usually drink grape juice, and a sip or two for a "L'Chaim". When I was 14 years old in '74, I joined a Jewish youth organization. I was the youngest in the group at the time amongst a wonderful group of peers. I was very active in the group at one point being elected as Sergeant-at-Arms and at one point being elected as treasurer. I was in the ninth grade and they were in the 11th grade. After my friends in the group graduated from high school, they left the group and I remained being the oldest amongst a new group of ninth graders. They started to smoke marijuana. Not wanting to remain in a group that did negative things, I just left the group. Thank G-d, I had an independent mind and did NOT do like the others. Learn from Dr. Lauren's advice and from my advice and be independent as long as it is positive.

(1) Kenan Moss, September 8, 2013 6:19 PM

on being different

We are all different, from the moment we are born. In the history of the world there has never been anyone like you and the eons to come there will never be anyone like you, either. So what is conforming about? It's about fear of the responsibility of being the person that one is: and so some hide in the herd and try to cajole one into joining in, to justify their negation of self. And if they can't they'll use laughter and rejection and bullying to achieve their end, which is none other than to force you to share their shame. And it works. If you ever see him, "in some parallel universe", ask Hitler how many dunderheads he managed to dragoon into dancing the looney fandango. Be who you are: thank HaShem every day that he made you, you.

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