Becoming your own person is a journey and it’s as beautiful or painful as you let it be.
I started shaving when I was about 13. As many young men desire, I wanted to let my facial hair flourish. With my father being in the military and beards a long ways off from being as accepted as they are now, it was not until I was 17 that I was able to grow a standard goatee. By college (2007) I was rocking a full (corporate) beard. I thought it was weird how polarized the reactions were to the beard. It was either a hearty approval or mockery and disgust. Until I was about 24 I heeded these opinions of others to a fault.
This concern with the opinions of others wasn’t restricted to my facial hair, but all areas of my life (my choice in a life partner, my decision to marry young, my spiritual views, fashion, values, etc.). It was a long journey but right as I was coming into my mid 20s I realized that growing my beard had become more than simply defying the razor and “being different.” It had become my statement. It was my physical expression of my inward conviction of being true to myself.
You see, by staying true to yourself in a visible way (hairstyle, lifestyle, etc.), you will attract those who can appreciate or expand your perspective, whereas, by conceding, you will surround yourself with “haters” who do or say things to dissuade you from being true to yourself. This will further drive you into madness which in fact, most of the world suffers from. These people who dislike or fear what they can’t understand or relate to will tend to act hostile to ideas or concepts that challenge their limited or arbitrary world-views.
It’s about drawing a line in the sand. When I was fired for the first time ever, I was well into a 6-7 month beard. The longest it had been at the time. I decided that I would not shave it as I looked for a new job because wherever I went next, I wanted to be appreciated for my commitment to being an individual and valued as a productive employee (while also proving wrong the stigma of “lazy bearded guys”). In my mind, I felt that if you had a problem with beards then you were a backwards company catering to outdated modes of thinking that I wanted no part of (aside from the obvious places like food/medical industry where there are understandable restrictions).
So I learned that it wasn’t the beard that meant so much to me as did the empowerment that came from being who I wanted to be. It wasn’t about hurting other people or not being considerate to opposing points of view – instead it was a commitment to being a genuine person. In my involvement with the bearded community and being the token “beard guy” in my various social spheres, I’ve come to understand that in the end, people want to be around people who are real and non-judgemental. This doesn’t mean you lack convictions, but that you understand the true value of convictions comes from your genuine and personal commitment to that conviction.
Your self expression will alienate some people but it will attract the right people – the people you actually want around you. So grow your beard or shave it. But whatever you do, don’t deprive the world of your unique perspective. It is only through us being true to ourselves that we can all truly begin to understand how similar we really are.