Guest Post: The Lost Art of Following [NaBloPoMo 26]

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 / 4:32 AM

This is the second guest post on my blog...we're on a roll! I've known Cortney for about 12 years now and have had the pleasure of experiencing so many ups, downs, and in betweens with her since we met--from breakups to road trips to Shakespeare adventures and more. She's one of those people I could talk to every day for a week and not get tired of our conversations, or go a month without talking to her and then we'll end up on the phone talking about how social media can change the world and it will feel totally normal.

Cortney is also one of the most thoughtful, wonder-filled, and eloquent writers I know, so it's an honor to include her words on my blog. Take it away, Cortney...!

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People tend to think of me as a bold and independent type. I ride horses, I dance on stage, I travel. I try new things with minimal hesitation and am not afraid to pick up and move across the country with a couple weeks’ notice, my pair of ex-racehorses in tow.

The thing is, none of the defining experiences or decisions in my life have ever been my own idea. Every “cool” thing I’ve done, every place I’ve been, every career interest and hobby and what-have-you that makes me me, down to the music I like, is something I picked up from someone else. My identity is a mish-mash resulting from the fact that I am always willing to entertain somebody else’s suggestion.

In other words, I am a follower.

In a society where we glorify the driven visionary, the true identity, the courage to stand by what you believe and relentlessly pursue your dreams, this realization was at first a shameful one. Be a leader, they say, not a follower. If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?

Maybe I would. Maybe they know something I don’t know.

There is an art to following, and once upon a time it was considered a valuable skill. The famous Yin and Yang binary from ancient China, for example, is not only about darkness and light. The symbol represents a whole series of binaries that make the world go round, including that of Initiating and Receiving. Leading and following. Read the I Ching and you will find that it sometimes advises going forth and acting, but it also sometimes advises taking a step back and allowing the natural flow of things to carry you, perhaps in a different direction than you had planned.

We call followers inauthentic. We say they are spineless and lack integrity. Katy Perry might describe them as plastic bags. You can’t just go along with what other people do. Do your own thing. Be yourself.

Be myself? But what if there are selves I can be that I don’t even realize? What if I let the people and the world around me change me in ways that I can’t anticipate? The world of one who follows is so boundless it is hard to understand. When I meet new people, I want to see the world through their eyes. My sense of self can change instantaneously as I buy in to other people’s dreams, and in this world of mine many contradictory things are true at once. It is because I adopt other people’s ideas and follow their footsteps that my own array of life experience has become the diverse and wonderful mix that it is.

I think it is time we reframed our discussion so that being a leader versus being a follower is no longer a mutually exclusive dichotomy. In social dancing, following is not so much a role as it is a skill. Following is the delicate and complex art of embracing the unexpected so seamlessly that it seems to have been your idea all along. Following is scary, and it takes courage. It takes a bit of letting go and a lot of flexibility. I think a lot of us can benefit from learning to do these things.

In the words of country legend George Strait: “Life’s a dance you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.”

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