My wife, Kathy, and I visited friends in North Carolina over the holidays.

We met them near Hickory, North Carolina, and then caravanned across the state. My plan was to let our friend, Geno, lead the way. However, as soon as we got under way, I realized keeping up with Geno would be a challenge. But I set my sights on his black SUV and decided to give it the old college try.

Midday traffic was unusually heavy, which made my commitment even more challenging. In and out of the interstate lanes my friend drove. Sometimes, he sped out of sight as I struggled to keep up. On one occasion I thought I had caught him as I pulled in behind a black sport-utility vehicle (SUV), only to find it was not him. Over the 200 miles of highway that we traveled, I mistakenly tracked down Hondas, Toyotas, Chevrolets, Fords, and Lexus — all black SUVs — none of them him. I finally gave up when we stopped for fuel and said “we’ll see you at the hotel.”

More than 30 years ago, there was talk of a “world car” by futurists and car manufacturers. The idea was — for example — having transmissions made in Mexico, computer chips manufactured in China, alternators made in Brazil, starters made in Canada, etc., etc. The parts and the countries named might be different, but you get the idea. Most parts would be interchangeable, coming together to build a “world car.” So, now we have all these cars that look eerily alike.

And the sameness doesn’t stop with automobiles. For generations, teenagers have cried out “let me be myself” only to end up dressing like, talking like, and acting like their peers. The pressure to “fit in” is a powerful thing.

In today’s world, it appears that if you aren’t willing to “go with the flow,” you might face serious rejection or even be ostracized. Once upon a time, the rugged individualist was admired. It’s not so much the case these days.

Henry David Thoreau spoke of the man (or woman) “who marched to the beat of a different drummer.” Rocker, Bob Dylan said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “When you step out and do your own thing, some people will be mystified, and it will tick (though he didn’t use the word “tick”) some other people off.”

A popular admonishment today goes like this … “Stay in your own lane.” Personally, I’ve always empathized with children who have a tendency to “color outside the lines.”

My late grandfather, who was considered by many to be “an odd bird” was oft to say, “It takes all kinds to make a world.”

I am always amused to hear young parents, after their second child is born, say, “They are so different.”

I hope they allow them to stay that way.

I have an old friend who often remarks, “You got to be yourself. You can’t try to be like somebody else. It will never work.”

How true that is.

So, here’s to “being your own dog,” not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of being true to your calling. I once heard a brilliant psychologist say that we think all brilliant students should become doctors and scientists and engineers. But the world needs brilliant welders and mechanics and farmers.

Our Creator must have loved variety, because we came into the world as uniquely-different packages, each to let his light shine in special ways.

I wish you well in being true to yourself.

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is an author and motivational speaker.

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