A Letter to Individualism

Dear Individualism,

Hi, you confuse me. As you’ve been my mentor since I was one day old, I don’t think I need to introduce myself. You were with me when I spoke my first words, when I took my first steps, when I got into my first school bus, when I started high school, when I went to Europe for a year on exchange, when I applied for post-college jobs. You’re with me right now. But I’m writing anyways. Because I have some stuff to ask you.

I never consciously recognized your existence until about three years ago. Did you know that? You’re like this weird, meta, floating mind control ghost. You’re almost like a religion. People go through their entire lives not having any idea you exist, yet you’ve guided them every step of the way (even when they’re destitute). You’re a little like God.

I’m getting off-topic. About the stuff I had to ask. You know how you taught me that I was “special?” That I could do anything if I put my mind to it? That I had something inside of me that made me superior to everyone? That it was my destiny to rise to the top of a modern tribe, my calling to be the best [something] in [field]? Is all that stuff actually true or is it just cultural dogma? I can’t tell if it’s the way I should be seeing things anymore.

Individualism, I’m lost. I sort of believe that I’m special, like you told me. I sort of think that I’m better than a lot of people. That my destiny surpasses all other destinies. You gave me that belief, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get rid of it completely. But reality and the despair of high expectations sometimes run counter to what you’ve taught me. And existentialism. What about existentialism?

What this letter’s really about, Individualism, is that I tentatively want out of our relationship. Because I think what you’re doing to me at this point in my life is labeling some cause and effect sequences as failures and others as successes. You’re making me think clichés are real. You’re making me see my life through all these win/lose narratives and it’s fucking me up in the head.

I don’t know if this is how it’s supposed to be. Do I really have to be the “best”? Am I really that “special?” What does that even mean? Am I really better, in some way, than everyone else? Because that sorta makes me completely unsatisfied every time I’m not perfect. Every day I don’t receive the Noble Prize for Awesome. Every minute one of your clichés doesn’t play out. Every situation that I have to categorize into one of two of your narratives.

Individualism, I think your presence is causing a lot of despair. I think it’s good that you create things like motivation and drive, and I know some positive stuff has happened via your influence. I know this. You helped me when I was young. But I think cool stuff can come from other ways of seeing the world. That motivation doesn’t need to be in the name of fulfilling one’s destiny as talented and great and superior. That I don’t need to achieve a worldview’s definition of “success” (can we actually just stop saying that word? It’s becoming meaningless).

So I’m not sure, but I think there are other ways to do this. No offense to you, and I’m still sort of undecided, but I think I want to be done with you. I’m unsure if it’s possible. Anyway, I hope you fare well with the whole forthcoming end of Western Society and everything. Interested to see how that works out for you.

Goodbye forever (theoretically),

Brandon TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • Gilesruffer

    Individualism is the new conformity.

    • GilesrufferTheUninspired

      woaaaahh lol that's like deep lol


  • Wait....what

    well what the hell.. so we can't rise above the herd of conformity yet we can never really be individuals….wtf bro…

  • Randy Samburg

    think you might have lost your individuality when you wrote this (lacks “style”)…

    i relate to this though… feel like i've been told to follow my dreams and never give up and shit my whole life… which is what has led me to being 50,000 in debt from NYU, when I could have payed 3x less in minnesota. Following our dreams is hard, I'm still not a cast member on saturday night live…..

    • Manam

      lol damn.

  • http://twitter.com/Erikhaspresence Erik Stinson

    what if god was one of us

    • Brandon Gorrell

      god damn you

  • Manam

    This was very good. I feel like it could have gone longer.

  • jmbg

    Thoughtful Catalog

  • CharleyClemens

    Yup yup, you've nailed what most children of conservative, aggressive Asian parents in America discover during their “rebellious phase.” Having a culture centered around achievement as a means of attaining recognition of individuality leads to a beautifully over-sized suicide rate.

    Therefore, to avoid death, we Asian children must adapt by rejecting the idea that grades and achievements will bring us status and happiness. Ironically, being completely achievement based works the opposite way for Asians than whites, because we are not special when we are on top of a class, we are “just that Asian kid.”

    • http://twitter.com/JosephErnest Joseph Ernest Harper

      brandon “big trouble in little Tokyo” scott gorrell

    • Paragraph guy

      Asian parents are crazy.. but dude even if they put no particular emphasis on getting great grades, you would have put just as much pressure on yourself to achieve something else, like social status, money, getting your novel published, whatever.. when people are without goals, the suicide rate soars even more, at least your parents acting like something mattered in life… better than them not giving a shit about anything you accomplish.. idk.. parents are weird… what should we be doing… wtf

  • http://twitter.com/MissKimball misskimball

    you could start a cult or go live in a cave in the mountains
    both good life choices, you get to indulge your individualism and get the nobEL prize for awesome every day. All you need is guns & ammo

  • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

    Feel like this should be addressed to elitism.

  • Jessicaltomberlin

    “Nobel Prize of Awesome” haha. That's awesome.

  • SJ Graham

    good one

  • Gerry Rice
  • http://twitter.com/dahveed_miller david miller

    enjoyed this brandon.

    wasn't sure if it was addressing 'individualism' as a universal element of human nature or a 'phenomenon' in america. i felt confused at the end where 'western civilization' is mentioned.

    in argentina it doesn't feel like individualism shapes ppls lives or psyches the same way.

    ppl more content just to live small lives here, it seems.

    this piece made me think of something barry lopez said. he was watching geese flying. noting how different geese would take turns leading and others drafting. he said something like 'in choosing which route to take, in choosing when to land – it never matters which bird 'sees' where to go. all that matters is that its seen.'

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