When the artist Taylor Spence, a.k.a. Savannalore, recently joined me for the Humanitou Podcast, we talked about conformity and breaking free (among other things). We talked about paths to being our true, full selves.
That’s a topic that comes up over and over, in some form or another, with many people I talk with for the podcast. Surely, that’s no coincidence. It’s a topic that is constant in me. And in so many others.
As I was folding laundry over the weekend, I had a literal and figurative expression of breaking conformity in my hands, a practice I’ve used in my own life in recent years. It’s one I’m sharing with my sons, whether they understand it yet or not. And so I’m sharing it with you.
My secret practice for breaking free of conformity and tapping into my own voice is … (drum roll) … mismatched socks.
I’ve been purposefully mismatching my socks for years now. I also mismatch a lot of my sons’ socks. Why? To start a ripple effect of questioning and redefining, or even undefining, “normal.”
My sons, who are 8 and 10, do not question the mismatching. Maybe that’s because they are only 8 and 10, and some might assume because they are boys. Maybe.
But I think it’s also because the “normal” in our house, as I have created it, is that socks do not have to be matched. “Rules” do not have to be followed blindly.
And if socks do not have to be matched, even though they come from the factory that way, and everyone around us is wearing them that way, then what else can we question? What else can we redefine and choose to be our own?
It can be uncomfortable to go against the status quo, to loosen the grip of its inertia and ask “Why?” It’s why relatively so few people do it, and why they get uncomfortable when others do, especially if they are in a position of authority.
Groupthink drives society, in schools, corporations, churches, social circles, politics. Conformity is easy: just don’t think about why things are as they are, or think about what they could be. Easy for who it’s easy for.
For those of us who are driven by curiosity and ask “why,” blind conformity is painful. It’s soul-destroying. It’s existential.
And it can be very difficult to break free from, nonetheless, because we are conditioned just the same as those who willingly conform. And we have relatively few models who show us the underground passage to the light we crave.
Mismatching socks can be a mostly private and relatively “safe” way to bring joy into your life — wear wildly mismatched colors and patterns! — while learning to color outside the lines. It harms no one, and can be your secret rebellion.
We already often attribute power to clothes, wearing what gives us a boost in confidence for that special meeting or event or first date (or third), or for a personal emotional pick-me-up. We wear that special underwear, that lucky shirt, that favorite color, tie, dress, hat.
So why not socks? And why not the rule-breaking, earth-shaking mismatching of them?
(By the way, that I could, even sarcastically, describe the practice of mismatching socks as earth-shaking suggests how strong the grip of conformity and conditioning is, does it not? Something so minor, yet so just not done?)
For those who know so well the seemingly all-powerful grip of conformity, of societal conditioning that runs so deep we not only do things without thinking about why we do them, but even the mere suggestion of mismatching our socks causes a knee-jerk “No way” response …
(which, by the way, if that’s your response, or your response simultaneously is one of dismissal and anxiety — “That’s dumb, what’s it matter?” and “I could never do that” — you really might want to ask why that’s your response to such a small step outside the box) …
For those of who want to feel free and true to their own hearts, give it a try. Mismatch your socks. It’s a tiny step that leads to more. It’s shockingly empowering. And it can be your little secret.
Give it a try and let me know how it feels. And let me know what other convention-breaking ideas it sparks for you. What have you really been wanting to do, maybe for a lifetime, but have been too afraid of “their” reaction?
Mismatched socks are one of the keys to a universe of self-truth, freedom and joy. I’m sayin’. From there, all things can be questioned, all systems, all “rules” and expectations, all “givens” and thoughtless and/or outdated status quos.
Oh, and go listen to the conversation with Savannalore. There’s a lot of good, good stuff in there, beautiful takeaways for further emboldening your spirit.
Socks drawing by Adam Williams