On Gender Equality in Personal Writing

In a recent thought that I published, I used the very non-gender-neutral words 'he' and 'his':

A man can lose everything, but if he still has his soul, his heart, his mind, and a quiet place of solitude in which to reflect on all three, he will have everything he needs to regain what he has lost.

In response to this thought, my friend Kit wrote the following:

"This gets to the heart of what’s important in life. Really like it. I find myself disappointed with the English language though. There seems to be no way to write this in a gender-inclusive way without it sounding awkward."

Kit's comment got me thinking about gender equality in writing and language.

I often make an effort to remove things like 'he' and 'his' from my writing so that it can be applicable to both genders. For some reason, in this particular case, the thought of making such an effort hadn't even occurred to me before publishing the writing. But why not?

It hadn't occurred to me because I was writing and publishing the thought straight from my heart, straight from the perspective of a man, as unedited and unfiltered as possible. It felt right to publish it using 'he' and 'his' because I was thinking, writing, and sharing from my perspective. It was something that was coming from me, not from some gender-neutral entity.

Yes, I am a man. My thoughts are coming from a brain situated inside a male body. Why should I discard that fact? Why should I throw away so much information about the very perspective that helped generate the thoughts that I'm sharing? Why should I be afraid to be me? So that I can be politically correct?

I am a man and that is politically correct enough.

Yes, there are probably occasions where writing in a gender-neutral tone makes sense, but if you're sharing something personal, if you're sharing something that came from your heart, don't be afraid to be yourself. You are who you are and that is politically correct enough.

Risk Being You

If you could erase everything you know about yourself, who would you become?

Imagine for a moment that you could let go of everything that makes up your identity: all your fears and self-doubts, all your past mistakes and experiences, all your family and friends, even the shape of your body and face, and all those weird things you don't like about your name.

Forget about what you look like. Forget about how you normally interact with people. Forget about how people usually respond to you and how you respond and act around other people. Forget what you think. Forget what you feel. Forget all of it.

Now imagine for a moment that you can start from scratch. You can recreate yourself to become anyone you like, a person with whatever personality and whatever traits you desire. 

If you've always wanted to be comfortable around other people, pretend for a moment that you suddenly gain the ability to be extremely relaxed and easygoing. Your confidence goes through the roof and you have no fear of judgement. You make friends easily and you have fun talking to strangers. When someone smiles and says hello, you not only smile and say hello back but you go out of your way to initiate a conversation because you're excited and intrigued about where it may lead and that alone feels worth more than being afraid.

If you've always wished you worried less and spent more time enjoying life and the company of those present, that you enjoyed doing things not because the timing was right but because they felt like the right thing to do, then pretend for a moment that you can suddenly embrace the joy of this moment with no doubt or hesitation, no questioning or analyzing, no reservation or delay.

If you've always wanted to speak your mind and be yourself no matter what others may think, pretend for a moment that in any given situation you will always say what's on your mind. You willingly open doors and you leave room for others to judge you because you're so confident in your own skin that it just doesn't matter. You'd rather let others know you for you — no matter what they may think — rather than let them judge you for who you're not.

If you've always wished that you didn't play it safe all the time, then pretend for a moment that in this newly created life all the characters and props that come with it will be wiped away soon and everything will start anew; it doesn't matter how risky the choice, how crazy the idea, or how absurd the potential outcome: they're all worth a shot because this is your only opportunity anyway.

Now recognize that none of this needs to be pretend.

You can start from scratch. Others who know something about you may hold onto what they know and believe, but you can let it all go.

Initiating conversations and talking to people always leads to more interesting and fun experiences.

Enjoying the company of those present and living day-to-day with a focus on what makes you happy and what opportunities lie ahead is always safer than doubting, over-analyzing, and waiting for the right moment.

Speaking your mind, leaving room for others to judge you, and not fearing the outcome of being yourself is always better than pretending to be someone you're not.

Taking chances on the things that feel right, exploring opportunities that could lead somewhere new, and believing in ideas that speak to you, is always worth any perceived risk; everything you know will turn to dust soon anyway.

Be the person you know you're supposed to be and stop pretending there are justifiable reasons to do otherwise. There is nothing worth avoiding who you are because who you are is worth more than anything you could risk.

Notes: Owning Yourself and Stripping Away False Identity

In an article featured in Your Money, Your Life, Adam King writes about how after failing several times to make a living online, he discovered his real problem: he wasn't owning anything of himself.

The concept he shares towards the end, that of uncovering layers of false identity through testing our assumptions, ideas, and beliefs, is incredibly powerful and it's something I intend to actively practice.

I met a successful entrepreneur for brunch in Chicago and she proceeded to fillet the problem wide open for me. "You're not owning anything of yourself," she said. "Own your words, own your vision, own your life."

It didn't take long after that talk for me to uncover the root of all the exhaustion, overwork, stress, and physical breakdown over the past ten years. Simply put, I was pursuing pre-conceived visions of an ideal lifestyle.

Each of my offline businesses was aimed at producing particular experiences tied to a lifestyle vision that I had adopted from other people or from the expectation of the crowd associated with that type of business. The same thing happened when I moved things online. I was pursuing what I was told was the ideal internet lifestyle but, again, it was someone else's ideal rather than my own.

Chasing lifestyles is exhausting because it drains your knowledge, abilities, emotions, and time into bottomless pits. There's no way to achieve the ideal lifestyle of someone else without massive sacrifice of your own truth and happiness.

It's taken time to remove the layers of what I thought I was supposed to pursue so that I can tap into the raw and powerful realizations of what I've actually wanted all along.

One of those layers is identity. In the past, everything I pursued in business and in life was all tied to what is assumed I should obtain due to that identity. If I eliminate the idea of being a writer, artist, designer, or whatever I might call myself, and just focus on mastering that craft, then I grant myself the freedom to achieve the lifestyle I desire outside of the realms of identity and in spite of the social expectations that come from that particular genre or crowd.

It's difficult, being honest with myself about my desired lifestyle. Guilt was a huge factor in holding myself hostage to the work and life I thought I was supposed to have. But the reality was, adhering to that guilt was keeping me from bigger and better things.

In reconstructing my own vision for my ideal lifestyle, I've been learning about the path of people like Derek Sivers, Richard Branson, and even Abraham Lincoln. Doing this has revealed their paths have piles and piles of failed businesses, elections, pursuits, ideas, and dreams behind them.

But in the end, it's those failures that were necessary for success. Each one was another layer of false identity being stripped away to reveal their core truth.

And that's really the key to stopping the pursuit of other people's lifestyles. Be willing to test each idea and inspiration as far as it needs to go in order to learn what you need to learn. Then repeat, often and always. This will quickly peel away the superficial that's hiding the truth about where you want to go and what you want to do.

Embrace Your Essence

What signifies your existence? What does it mean for you to be alive? When you think about You, what comes to mind? The shape of your smile, the color of your eyes, or the curves of your body? Perhaps your name or the knowledge that you exist in the minds of others?

Who are you? Are you your thoughts or emotions, your history, your successes or failures, or the people you've met along the way? Are you the things that you create? Are those really you?

Breathe. Right now, take a deep breath. Is that you breathing? Look down at your skin. Feel it. Is that your flesh? Put a hand over your heart. Feel your heartbeat. Does that vibration signify you?

If you release all false identity, you'll recognize something that goes much deeper, something more substantial, more concrete.

It's in your smile. It's in the color of your eyes and the curves of your body. It's in your thoughts and emotions, and your successes and failures. It's in every breath, every heartbeat, and every cell of your body. It's in all the people you meet and every thing you create.

Close your eyes. Let go. Allow your essence to emerge. You can sense its presence, the way it saturates everything. You've always felt it, perhaps somewhere in the background hidden behind all that stuff: all the labels added to life, the ideas, the expectations, the subtle judgements.

Your essence is You. It's here, always present, always offering comfort and confidence. It comes from that place where beauty, peace, and love emanate, where dreams originate, where intuition paints a landscape of impossibility with colors of hope.

Your essence has no doubt. It doesn't question itself or feel inadequate. It knows right from wrong and intuitively senses what needs to be done. It rides the line between thinking and feeling, between dreams and reality, between the past and the future.

When you feel your essence, hold it tenderly, embrace it with unconditional love. Stop resisting it. Stop fighting it. Stop judging it. Let go of self-pity and free yourself from the expectation that you are somehow incomplete, lost, or unhappy.

You are complete. You know the answers. You are abundantly enough.

Release your essence. Give it the respect it deserves. Stop trying to change it. Stop regulating its unquenchable thirst for freedom. Stop holding You captive in a cage of reason. Remove the leash, unlock the door, and open your arms. Embrace You.