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How many times have you been adjured to "be yourself" as if it were some kind of Eternal Verity and you were not measuring up? Individualism is an American virtue and it has become a club with which to attack people, especially the young.

And, at the same time, sometimes by the same person, were you pressured to conform to some cultural standard? Over and over again, for example, ads that try to sell us stuff, the message being (by implication) that we're not good enough. We're unintelligent, ugly, fat, and poor. We don't have the latest gadget, so we're lacking and behind the times. We aren't skinny, so we're bad people, or at the very least, risible.

So what's a person to do? How to deal with the resultant cognitive dissonance? Buy, buy, buy, in a frantic effort to resolve the split has certainly been the answer for many people. 'If I only can get the right hair color, the perfect makeup, the most expensive shoes, the right running shorts...' and the scramble continues.

Authenticity is my answer, avoiding the destructive search for non-existent perfection, modeled on some ad maker's guilt trip, on the one hand, and a self-absorbed self-indulgent laziness that says, I'm perfect the way I am and not going to change or conform to anybody's expectations, on the other.

It means recognizing and enjoying your strengths; it means acknowledging and strategizing for your weaknesses; and it means finding ways to facilitate your personal growth as it works for you, not necessarily as society defines it for you.

Tall order.

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