For most of my life I’ve been a positive thinker. That kind of person that sees opportunities when most people don’t. Who likes to cheer other people up when they are feeling down. The guy with the glass half full. Well, most of the time anyway. That is my core personality, with which I seemed to have lost touch in the past few years. During my burnout I even got depressed and pessimistic. I focussed on all the negative shit in my life and I couldn’t even imagine being an optimist ever again. Even though I called myself a realistic thinker at the time..
I now know that I used the realistic thinking as a layer or, as some might call it, a mask. Nobody likes to admit they’re depressed. Saying you’re a realist has a better ring to it than saying you’re a pessimist, doesn’t it? It’s almost the same anyway. If you expect nothing, you’re bound to get more than you bargained for. If you don’t hope, you won’t get disappointed. And when you don’t open up to people, you won’t get hurt. The world is a safe place from behind that layer of play pretend.
In the past few months however I started feeling like an onion (thanks for the metaphor Shrek!). And I’m peeling off one layer at a time. Slowly I take off all the layers and masks I wore to survive in the everyday world. Every person uses layers I think. Some people more than others. Some layers or masks are small – just big enough to get through a conversation with someone who doesn’t really interest you – and easy to take off. Others are as large as yourself – for example when you’re pretending to be someone you’re not just to win over the guy or girl you really like or land that well paying job – and almost impossible to take off.
I believe that the more time you spend wearing layers and masks, the more difficult it becomes to take them off. And if you keep them on too long they’ll actually become a part of you. They melt to you inner core. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a part of growing up. You have to change your core to be able to live like an adult. Playing with Lego all day doesn’t pay the bills, right?
However, sometimes you apply so many different layers that you seem to forget to know which ones are good. You lose touch with your core. So you can’t tell which are the ones that you want to keep on and let be a part of you. The ones you actually need tot strengthen your core. And which are the ones that are bad, the ones that are turning you into a person you never really wanted to be. It’s extremely difficult to tell the difference until you allow yourself to take a step back and look at yourself from a distance. Do you see the person that your heart wants to see? Or are the wrong layers taking over?
Some people are strong and independent, they can step back at any time and know how to listen to their heart. They are true to themselves and don’t care about what other people think. And they are always who they want to be. They only use the layers and masks they actually need. Me? I’m not that strong. Or at least I wasn’t, maybe I am now. When I was living my every day life I was looking for acceptance and approval from others a lot. I couldn’t step back and judge myself by my own standards. Instead I judged myself by the standards of others.
Maybe it’s because I was bullied in school. Or it’s because it just feels better when people praise you. Or maybe it’s because I knew that when I would eventually step back, I wouldn’t like what I’d see. It doesn’t matter why I did it the way I did, you can’t change the past anyway. I don’t need an excuse for it either, without past me there would be no present me. So why blame him for his choices?
So if you’re reading this and it sounds familiar: give it a try. Take a deep breath and look at yourself from a distance. Compare who you see to who your heart tells you to be. Do they add up? Start realising what you see and what you feel.
The only thing that’s really important is that you are happy with being you. That’s what I realised. And I had to step back all the way to Morocco to see it. So I do what I want now and I say what I want. And that seems to work as an automatic filter. The people who like me for who I am are still in my life. And the people who don’t are slowly disappearing from it. All by natural selection, no drama at all.
There is a common prejudice about young people who drive around in an old Volkswagen van. Either you’re a surfer or a hippie. Even when the actual hippie bus is an older type than our Chewie. It’s just one or the other. I never thought about myself as a hippie. It’s miles apart from the world I lived in for so many years, which revolved around earning money. And hippies have a lame image, whereas surfers are cool. So I had to be a surfer right?
When we reached the coast I felt a lot of pressure. I needed to go surfing. And everybody seems to be surfing nowadays, it’s the new yoga. Besides people say I also look and dress like a surfer. And doesn’t every surfer dream about living a nomadic life like we do? So if I lead the life of a surfer and look like a surfer, I need to act like a surfer too. Don’t I? So I started applying a new layer. Surfer-Jeroen. I started looking at surf schools, reading into the theory of surfing and what the good surf spots were. I even sat down on the beach and counted sets of waves.
But, before I actually took a surf lesson and gave my new layer the proper foundation to attach, I realised that I chose this nomadic lifestyle because I chose to live my life the way I wanted to. And not for the approval of others again. So I backed down, took a step back and gave it a good thought. Am I a surfer? Maybe, yes. But not now.
I don’t feel like one, I don’t get stoked when I see the waves. Or when I use the word stoked. I don’t feel like driving around everywhere and spending time in places I rather wouldn’t, just to be able to catch some good waves. And most of all I don’t need to be a surfer fit in – even though I’m not even sure I want to fit in with the surfers we’ve met so far. Who seem to be friends by one mutual interest and a lot of pretence and prejudice.
I’ll try to explain that. When we were staying in Peniche, a good surfspot in Portugal, we were parked next to the beach with about fifty other vans. That was the night Donald Trump got elected as the new president of the United States. I thought this was a big deal. So did Hedwig. And Anne, one of our best friends in the world who was also there, did too. She’s a surfer by the way, and I love her. For the rest, people either didn’t know or didn’t care. They were just on the lookout for the next surf. Talking about the new leader of the free west? Nothing to be stoked about.
Next to that we stayed in a lot of other surf spots along the coastline of Portugal. Lots of these spots were absolutely stunning. Close to the ocean, far from the cities. Beautiful pieces of nature. Except for when you walked about a hundred meters off the parking spots. Litter, plastic and toilet paper everywhere. No respect for nature. No respect for the local people. Not how I imagined the surf community at all.
And finally most of the surfer dudes were friendly until they found out I didn’t surf. Then they started avoiding me. Which was actually okay by me, I only know so much about surfing, so after one conversation I’m out off tales to tell anyway. But when you just started a new life. And all the people you meet are like this. Well I think you’ll understand that it’s hard to make new friends that way. And if you like making friends – like I usually do – it’s tempting to put on the surfer-Jeroen layer to make that happen. Even if that’s not actually what you want.
I’m the first to admit that my experiences in Portugal aren’t representative for all surfers. That would be a stupid judgement. There are thousands of surfers who know more about politics than I do. Or about environmental issues. Or about deep sea welding and knitting for that matter – which is not really difficult since I don’t know anything about either of those.
The point I’m trying to make is not about the surfers. But about me. I didn’t like them. But I wanted to make new friends. So I wanted to change myself to fit in. Who was I kidding? I don’t need to be a surfer just to feel accepted. No, I needed to change my way of thinking and to accept that it’s okay that I didn’t fit in. And I needed to accept that those are not the kind of people I wanted to be friends with anyway. To step back and look at myself from a distance. So I did. And I listened to my heart. I chose to be happy with myself. And even though I’ve made a lot of new surfing friends since Portugal, I’m still not surfing.
So I have to be a hippie than?
Some people just need to put labels on other people. That helps them keep the world organised. Remember the prejudice about young people who drive in an old Volkswagen van? If I’m not the one I need to be the other, right? I really don’t mind if people need to label other people. I used to do it myself all the time. Still do sometimes. And now we know that I’m not a surfer, I have to be a hippie. But what’s a hippie?
A Hippie is a person who was raised under the ideological system that came out of the tumultuous 1960’s in North America and western Europe. They are either of the flower-child/baby boomer generation or that generations’ subsequent offspring. They possess a core belief set revolving around the values of peace and love as being essential in an increasingly globalised society, and they are oftentimes associated with non-violent anti-governmental groups.
Well that’s not a one hundred percent accurate description of me. But, you know what? If you feel the need to label people, go ahead, put this one on me. I can live with it. What’s wrong with peace? Or love? What’s wrong with being non-violent?
The more distance I get between myself and ‘everyday society’ the more I feel like a hippie anyway. When you look at something from a distance you tend to get a broader perspective than when you’re in the midst of it. It works for you. It works for society in general. Take a step back and have a good look. At the same time I’m feeling closer to my inner self again. The optimist. The one who wants to believe everything is possible and that this world is a wonderful place. So yes. I’m going to preach for love and acceptance. For peace and happiness.
It’s probably the most corny thing to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. Because it’s all that matters. Love yourself.
It’s the easiest thing in the world. And it’s also the hardest thing in the world. People are generally not good at loving themselves, that’s why we need the confirmation that we’re being loved by others. That’s why we put on masks and layers, to find just that. People are harsh for themselves and we are our own worse critics. That’s why we’re rarely satisfied with our work. There’s always room for improvement. That’s why we rarely draw or write or climb in trees anymore. There’s always someone who’s better at it. Or we think it’s childish and it doesn’t fit in our image. So we pretend to think it’s just a waste of time anyway.
But if you want to draw, draw. If you want to write. Write! If you like to climb trees, climb in a fucking tree. Do whatever makes you happy – as long as it’s not against the law I guess – because that’s what life is about. Being happy. Being in love. With yourself.
I really like social media. It’s a good way to interact with a lot of people. To get the news to you, to see other opinions and most importantly to see what your friends are up to and to meet new people. I use Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook for myself and our project. And even though I live a nomadic life, I wouldn’t want to do this without social media and internet. Some people say stuff like “Wander where the WiFi is weak.” But I personally hate weak WiFi signals, except when I have a good mobile signal, then I don’t mind.
What I don’t like is the tendency on social media to go negative and hate everything. Even though this is not exclusive to social media, unfortunately it’s everywhere. I’ll give you two examples of what I mean and I’ll start with number one: Donald Trump. I’m so sick and tired of all the jokes on his expense. It feels like I’m in fifth grade again and everybody is bullying the kid with the weird hair and tiny hands. It’s childish and it’s mean. So please stop doing that. Go ahead and attack the man on his actions and his words. But don’t bully him over his looks. That’s the same body shaming as you protest against so hard when it’s done to minorities or women. Please let’s keep peace on this one.
Don’t confuse love with hate
Most of all I would love to see a world where people wouldn’t confuse their love with hate. In sports I see people cheer harder when their rivals lose than when their own team wins. I see people smile and laugh when someone gets badly hurt, just because he wears another jersey. And believe me, I did the same for many years. But how crazy is that? In the Dutch elections people were cheering because another party didn’t win. Even though their own party was blown to pieces. Why let the hate for your ‘foe‘ be stronger than the love for yourself? Take charge. Stop letting others be responsible for your happiness. Love yourself. Love others, or at least try to let others love too.