[Aside from celebrating individuality and non-conformity, some of these quotes also examine the link between greatness and being misunderstood and/or reviled and/or shunned by the masses. Some of them simply look at what it is like to be deemed strange, abnormal, and/or an outcast. Some look at dissent and how it can make you look suspicious in others’ eyes. Others focus on the self, and the need to treasure it by being who you really are. You may also want to have a look at my conformity quotes for the flip side of this subject matter, or check out my quotes on masks.]

I have always rejected the idea of being understood. To be understood is to prostitute oneself. I prefer to be taken seriously for what I am not, humanly, decently, and naturally unknown. –Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

No, dear. Use your cup of stars. Insist on your cup of stars. Once they’ve strapped you into being like everyone else, you’ll never see your cup of stars again. –Annabeth Gish, in The Haunting of Hill House (note that this is a variation of what was said in the original book; please see directly below)

Don’t do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it … –Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

And there is power in that: power in making your own choices, in doing your own thing. There is power in weird. Because you know you make your decisions. You stand in the knowledge of your own authenticity, and not many people can say that. And eventually, you learn you to turn your back and say, Fuck you. I’ll find my own people then. And you go out. And you find them. –Elizabeth Broadbent, “When You’re A Socially Awkward ‘Weird’ Mom” (available here)

Be true to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant, and broken the monotony of a decorous age. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Heroism”

I meant to say, you can turn away from this:
if you can take the hammering they will give,
if you can hold on while they grip you
and hurl you ragefully at the ground,
if you can bite your teeth when they bend you
and still, you do not fit,
you can be who you are.
–Jimmy Santiago Baca, “How We Carry Ourselves”

My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist. –Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography

Nobody in this world was born to be the same as anyone else. Turning people into robots, especially children, is a crime against nature itself. –Jenna Miscavige Hill, Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

When I was younger, not being accepted made me enraged, but now, I am not inclined to dismantle my history. If you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes—and we become attached to the heroic strain in our personal history. –Andrew Solomon, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

Looking back and asking myself
“What the hell’d you let them break your spirit for?”
You know, their lives ran in circles so small.
Ah, they thought they’d seen it all.
And they could not make a place for a girl who’d seen the ocean.
–Michelle Shocked, “Memories of East Texas”

People will be drawn to you or they won’t. Might as well be yourself. –Richard, in the comments section of the January 20, 2011, Dear Sugar column

I rarely felt included. I thought it was because I lacked something, and that I didn’t understand the secret inclusion equation that everyone else understood and if I could get it right, be like they were, then I would feel included. No one told me to be myself and let that unfold, which is a message of love and acceptance. There is no easy way to that except living. –Wanda, in the comments section of the October 14, 2010, Dear Sugar column

Better Than You island doesn’t exist. And if it does it’s full of idiots, looking over their shoulder for the next idiot to arrive. –David Whitehouse, “The Popularity Contest”

Once upon a time there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. And they grew next to each other. And every day the straight tree would look at the crooked tree and he would say, “You’re crooked. You’ve always been crooked and you’ll continue to be crooked. But look at me! Look at me!” said the straight tree. He said, “I’m tall and I’m straight.” And then one day the lumberjacks came into the forest and looked around, and the manager in charge said, “Cut all the straight trees.” And that crooked tree is still there to this day, growing strong and growing strange. –Tom Waits, in Wristcutters: A Love Story (Another version of this quote that I’ve seen is: In the forest, there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. Every day, the straight tree would say to the crooked tree, “Look at me...I’m tall, and I'm straight, and I’m handsome. Look at you...you’re all crooked and bent over. No one wants to look at you.” And they grew up in that forest together. And then one day the loggers came, and they saw the crooked tree and the straight tree, and they said, “Just cut the straight trees and leave the rest.” So the loggers turned all the straight trees into lumber and toothpicks and paper. And the crooked tree is still there, growing stronger and stranger every day.”)

There are plenty of people in the world whose lives are governed by rote and routine. Such people will never be happy dealing with me, because I don’t conform. –John Elder Robison, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s

Whoso would be a man must also be a non-conformist. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series

To be great is to be misunderstood. –ditto

Outsiders come in all kinds of shape and colors and kinds of sexuality, and being in relationships with people who refuse to allow you to be who and what you are is never good. –Sandra, in the comments section of the November 19, 2010, Dear Sugar column

There is nothing wrong with you just because you haven’t yet met people who share your interests or outlook on life. Unless you are doing something unhealthy or destructive, take pride in your beliefs, passions, and values. Know that you will eventually meet people who will appreciate you for being you. –Alexandra Robbins, quoted in Annie Murphy Paul’s “Life After High School,” in the June 20, 2011, issue of Time

In Western society, and particularly in American society, imagination is stulified from infancy. The imaginative child is discouraged and upbraided. He is told that the process is mere dreaming, that it wastes time and leads nowhere. It is said to be “impractical.” As the child grows and its imagination inevitably leads it to express unconventional ideas and to try new behavior, it is chided and even viciously punished for such signs of unorthodoxy. –Philip Wylie, The Disappearance

Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way. –Juan Ramon Jimenez, España, November 20, 1920

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly. –Albert Einstein, in a letter to a professor emeritus of philosophy at the College of the City of New York, defending the appointment of Bertrand Russell to a teaching position

Individuality realized is the supreme attainment of the human soul, the master-master’s work of art. Individuality is sacred. –Frank Lloyd Wright

Abnormal, adj. Not conforming to standard. In matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal, to be abnormal is to be detested. –Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

What is originality? To see something that has no name as yet and hence cannot be mentioned although it stares us all in the face. The way men usually are, it takes a name to make something visible for them. –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

I am not eccentric! It’s just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel set in a pond of goldfish! –Dame Edith Sitwell, quoted in Sark’s Succulent Wild Woman

That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time. –John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. –ditto

Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called. –ditto

If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything. –Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation ...
–Rumi, “Unfold Your Own Myth”

I was very far away. My real life had gone underground and could not be seen by anybody. The person at the surface that everybody saw was no longer me. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “As I Sink Down”

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

A lot of times nerds are really artists listening to the beat of another drummer. –Roseanne Barr, in Roseanne

They will say you are on the wrong road, if it is your own. –Antonio Porchia

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series

We’re so many, we’re so hard to distinguish from each other, but we long to be distinguished … –Lydia Millet, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world. –Kate Chopin, The Awakening

... I suddenly woke up to the fact that if I accepted anybody’s definition of what there was in the world, I would be limited. –Shirley Brice Heath

Had I not created my whole world, I would certainly have died in other people’s. –Anaïs Nin

How could I be anything but a dissenter? Who wants the opinion of a group? –Saul Bellow

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. –Edward R. Murrow, “Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy”

What is a rebel? A man who says no. –Albert Camus, L’Homme révolté

Resistance is the secret of joy! –Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy


Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.

But from where we are
it doesn’t
look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders
behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
“I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language
or know your ways.
I must be
from another country.”
–Imtiaz Dharker, “They’ll say, ‘She must be from another country’”

... I broke out into a sweat and the words of Rilke, the poet, entered my brain—his notion that we are all of us born with a letter inside us, and that only if we are true to ourselves, may we be allowed to read it before we die. –Douglas Coupland, Generation X

In the middle of this it was good to have some moments in which whatever was left of you could sit in silence. When you could remember. When the evidence that had gathered could be sorted. And it was a difficulty if another person imagined these moments were their property. Your life got sliced from two sides like a supermarket salami until there was nothing left in the middle. You were the bits that had been given away right and left to others. Because they wanted the piece of you that belonged to them. Because they wanted more. Because they wanted passion. And you did not have it. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “In the Neighbourhood”

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. –Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn

Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are. –Quentin Crisp

I like him. I have a weakness for losers. Invalids, foreigners, the fat boy of the class, the ones nobody ever wants to dance with. My heart beats for them. Maybe because I’ve always known that in some way I will forever be one of them. –Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

The strongest man in the world is the man who stands alone. –Henrik Ibsen, An Enemy of the People

If you’re extraordinary, you don’t have to be ordinary. But it isn’t easy. You have to work, learn, learn some more, and be the best at what you do—whatever it happens to be. And you have to keep that thick skin, because all the people who sold out and played the game are going to resent you for succeeding on your own terms. –from one of my listservs

My darling girl, when are you going to understand that “normal” isn’t a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage. –Stockard Channing, in Practical Magic

to be nobody-but-myself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me [the same as] everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting. –ee cummings

To be original, or different, is felt to be “dangerous.” –Carl Rogers

Some people say you are going the wrong way, when it’s simply a way of your own. –Angelina Jolie

If being sane is thinking there’s something wrong with being different, I’d rather be completely fucking mental. –ditto

If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success. –John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you. –Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous! –ditto

Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

There are a lot of things in this world that are more important than being popular. Being true to yourself is one of them. –Michael Landon, in Little House on the Prairie

You spoke about things they couldn’t see
and so they laughed.
Yet to row up the dark river
against the current,
to take the unknown road
blindly, stubbornly,
and to search for words rooted
like the knotted olive tree—
let them laugh.
And to yearn for the other world to inhabit
today’s suffocating loneliness,
this ravaged present—
let them be.
–George Seferis, “Summer Solstice”

Woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity. –Eric Hoffer

He ... knew, in that instant, that his life would not be an easy one—he was different, he looked different, he thought differently. –Alan Cumming, Tommy’s Tale

Do others, I wondered, “see things as I do? I do not think so, for if they did they would not still be alive.” And, life-threatening though my vision seemed, I would not repudiate it: “Sometimes I think I shall die from being different even as I cling to the difference fiercely.” –Nancy Mairs, “On Living behind Bars”

Do the common thing in an uncommon way. –Booker T. Washington

… he who has independent ideas is hated by the mass[es]. –Shang Yang, Shih-chi

Strongest minds are often those of whom the noisy world hears last. –William Wordsworth, “The Excursion”

All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity. –Friedrich Nietzsche

New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not common. –John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

We need—and should encourage and honor—not only discoverers of facts hitherto unknown but explorers of ideas and rethinkers of values. –Walter Moberly, The Crisis in the University

Tess was my first experience of a woman who had inhabited her weirdness, moved into the areas of herself that made her distinct from those around her, and learned how to display them proudly. –Alice Seabold, Lucky

If you don’t control your mind, someone else will. –John Allston

Individualism is rather like innocence: There must be something unconscious about it. –Louis Kronenberger, Company Manners

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity. –Christopher Morley

You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note. –Doug Floyd

A “Normal” person is the sort of person that might be designed by a committee. You know, “Each person puts in a pretty color and it comes out gray.” –Alan Sherman

But I was beginning to understand something about normality. Normality wasn’t normal. It couldn’t be. If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone. They could sit back and let normality manifest itself. But people—and especially doctors—had doubts about normality. They weren’t sure normality was up to the job. And so they felt inclined to give it a boost. –Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

Nature made us individuals, as she did the flowers and the pebbles; but we are afraid to be peculiar, and so our society resembles a bag of marbles, or a string of mold candles. Why should we all dress after the same fashion? The frost never paints my windows twice alike. –Lydia Maria Child

Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw.
–Edgar Allan Poe, “Alone”

I think when you’re an adult you start to like the very things that make you different. If you obsess about some defect, you make it obvious to everyone, and suddenly everyone is staring at just that defect. It’s always like that. The more you hide something, the more it shows. But when you accept your defect, suddenly no one on earth sees it anymore. –Audrey Tautou, in an interview in Allure magazine

Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it. –Albert Einstein

When leaders act contrary to conscience, we must act contrary to leaders. –Veterans Fast for Life

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. –Buddha

Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road. –Voltaire

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them. –George Bernard Shaw

With the pride of the artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists the small trumpet of your defiance. –Norman Mailer

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. –Friedrich Nietzsche

Ain’t no man can avoid being average, but there ain’t no man got to be common. –Satchel Paige

It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. –Herman Melville

Be neither a conformist or a rebel, for they are really the same thing. Find your own path, and stay on it. –Paul Vixie

To be dragged in the wake of the passive flock and to pass a hundred and one times beneath the shears of the shepherd, or to die alone like a brave eagle on a rocky crag of a great mountain: that is the dilemma. –Praxedis Guerrero, Regeneración

When I was four years old they tried to test my IQ, they showed me this picture of three oranges and a pear. They asked me which one is different and does not belong; they taught me different was wrong. –Ani Difranco

Only dead fish swim with the stream. –Malcolm Muggeridge

I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine. –Fritz Perls

Our concern must be to live while we’re alive ... to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are. –Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination; do not become the slave of your model. –Vincent Van Gogh

We begin life with the world presenting itself to us as it is. Someone—our parents, teachers, analysts—hypnotizes us to “see” the world and construe it in the “right” way. These others label the world, attach names, and give voices to the beings and events in it, so that thereafter, we cannot read the world in any other language or hear it saying other things to us. The task is to break the hypnotic spell, so that we become undeaf, unblind and multilingual, thereby letting the world speak to us in new voices and write all its possible meanings in the new book of our existence. –Sidney Jourard

I’m not sure I want popular opinion on my side—I’ve noticed those with the most opinions often have the fewest facts. –Bethania McKenstry

To be a genuine individualist requires a great deal of strength and courage. It is never easy to chart new territory, to cross new frontiers, or to introduce subtle shadings to an established color. –Toller Cranston

A poor fool indeed is he who adopts a manner of thinking for others! My manner of thinking stems straight from my considered reflections; it holds with my existence, with the way I am made. –Marquis de Sade

I feel like a fugitive from the law of averages. –William H. Mauldin

From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way. –Bill Watterson, “Calvin & Hobbes”

I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions. –Lillian Hellman, in a letter to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, May 19, 1952

Being strange is not necessarily bad … Sometimes it’s a person’s only redeeming quality. –Paula Sharp, I Loved You All

Be yourself, no matter what they say. –Sting, “Englishman in New York”

To have one’s individuality completely ignored is like being pushed quite out of life—like being blown out as one blows out a light. –Evelyn Scott, Escapade

I wish they would only take me as I am. –Vincent Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother Theo

Every individual has a place to fill in the world, and is important, in some respect, whether he chooses to be so or not. –Nathaniel Hawthorne

I guess I’ve spent my life listening to what wasn’t being said. –Eli Khamarov, America Explained!

My theory is that the hardest work anyone does in life is to appear normal. –(?)

Being normal is just a figment of everyone else’s imagination. –Carissa L.

He felt … a suspicion—no, a conviction—than he had been abandoned, forgotten, and that no one in the whole world cared or would ever care enough about him to really find out what he was like and what his dreams were. He was an outcast, a creature somehow vastly different from all other people, an object of scorn and derision, an outsider, secretly loathed and ridiculed by everyone who met him, even by those few who professed to love him. –Dean Koontz, The Voice of the Night

I always wonder why some people see things as weird and some people don’t. –Tim Burton

Worrying about being cool and how you look is just not worth it in the long run. If people spent all the time that they do worrying about how they look and instead used that time to educate themselves the world would be a far better place. –J. Stile

Fuck the status-quo. Live for yourself. Be independent from what the mainstream dictates what you should and shouldn’t do. Above all, survive. –ditto






No one else was you, not the you that existed a year before, not the you that might exist ten years from now, or even the next day. It was amatter of the moment, some unimaginable minim of time, always already gone. –Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt

You are an end product of time.
And time will always take its toll.
Never regret the price you pay to become who you are.
–Iain S. Thomas, “The Passing of Time”

We are all serving a life sentence in the dungeon of self. –Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

We’re all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life! –Tennessee Williams, Orpheus Descending

It would be nice
to buy tickets for a trip to the
self. It must be somewhere inside us.
–Atilla József, “Attila József”

I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand. I am quite ready to say so. ... Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still. –Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Few realizations are as demoralizing as knowing that the only thing standing between you and what you want is yourself. –Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own

You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you. –Rwandan proverb

Each one of us has to be what he or she is. –Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. –ditto

It is tragic how few people ever possess their souls before they die. –ditto

I suppose everyone continues to be interested in the quest for the self, but what you feel when you’re older, I think, is that … you really must make the self. It is absolutely useless to look for it, you won’t find it, but it’s possible in some sense to make it. I don’t mean in the sense of making a mask, a Yeatsian mask. But you finally begin in some sense to make and choose the self you want. –Mary McCarthy, in George Plimpton’s Writers at Work

One day you’re there and then all of a sudden, there’s less of you. And you wonder where that part went. If it’s living somewhere outside of you. And you keep thinking maybe you’ll get it back. And then you realize it’s just gone. –Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men

But when I call for a hero,
out comes my lazy old self;
so I never know who I am,
nor how many I am or will be.
I’d love to be able to touch a bell
and summon the real me,
because if I really need myself,
I mustn’t disappear.
–Pablo Neruda, “We Are Many”

Who do I belong to?
How come I mortgaged my being
till I don’t belong to myself?
How come I sold my blood?
And who now owns
my indecisions, my hands,
my private pain, my pride?
–Pablo Neruda, “Lost Letters”

What you see in yourself is what you see in the world. –Afghan proverb

A man who develops himself is born twice. –Argentinean proverb

Our real journey in life is interior. –Thomas Merton, “Circular Letter to Friends, September 1968”

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays

… it is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake; it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things. –Rainer Maria Rilke, “Rilke’s Letters On Love,” in John JL Mood’s Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties

The self is a rather elusive thing. It crouches, chameleon-like, somewhere in the underbrush of the mind and soul. You can pass by a hundred times without recognizing it. Just when you think you’ve found it, it changes form and scurries away to a new hiding place. If hide-and-go-seek were an Olympic event, the self would nail the gold medal every time. –Gene Truncellito

The highest value lies only in the self. –Chung-ch’ang T’ung

A self is a frightening thing to waste, it’s the lens through which one’s whole life is viewed, and few people are willing to part with it, in death, or even imaginatively, in art. –Diane Ackerman, An Alchemy of Mind

Searching for the self when I was entirely alone was hazardous. What if I found not so much a great emptiness as a space full of unpleasant contents, a compound of long-hidden truths, closeted, buried, forgotten. When I went looking, I was playing a desperate game of hide-and-seek, fearful of what I might find, most afraid that I would find nothing. –Doris Grumbach, Fifty Days of Solitude

I am myself. That is not enough. –Sylvia Plath, “The Jailer”

We always wake up too late to who we really are, and by then we’re stuck with living a life belonging to someone else entirely. –James Hamilton-Paterson, Amazing Disgrace

Until we lose ourselves there is no hope of finding ourselves. –Henry Miller

One must not look inward too much, while the inside is yet tender. I do not wish to frighten myself until I can stand it. –Djuna Barnes

Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself. –Michel de Montaigne, Essais

Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from somewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.
–Rumi, “Who Says Words with My Mouth?”

Late, by myself, in the boat of myself,
no light and no land anywhere,
cloudcover thick. I try to stay
just above the surface, yet I’m already under
and living within the ocean.
–Rumi, an untitled piece in Coleman Barks’s The Essential Rumi

There is a light seed grain inside.
You fill it with yourself, or it dies.
–Rumi, an untitled piece in Coleman Barks’s The Essential Rumi

Do you think I know what I’m doing?
That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself?
As much as a pen knows what it’s writing,
or the ball can guess where it’s going next.
–Rumi, an untitled piece in Coleman Barks’s The Essential Rumi

If you are to be, you must begin by assuming responsibility. You alone are responsible for every moment of your life, for every one of your acts. –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman’s Odyssey

Whenever I look inside myself I am afraid. –CEM Joad

All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself. –Ralph Ellison, Battle Royal

Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. –Judy Garland

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. –ee cummings

Learn to ... be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not. –Henri Frederic Amiel

There is just one life for each of us: our own. –Euripides

Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself. –Oscar Wilde

To me it’s awe-inspiring … All those billions of little evolutionary steps leading to this sensation of being “me.” –Simon Boswell, The Seven Symphonies

… I stare into the fridge. Like a mirrored image of myself. Cold and empty, and the lights come on only when you open the door. Otherwise ice-cold purring darkness. –Hallgrímur Helgason, 101 Reykjavík

The longest journey is the journey inward. –Dag Hammarskjöld

Blessed are those who believe in something larger than self to give life meaning and lower blood pressure. For some it is God, for others nature, for others the creation of something that we throw our whole being into—a poem, a song, a dance, a painting. Whatever gets you to transcend self and merge with a larger entity, pursue it with a vengeance. –Sharon Heller, PhD, Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight

It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is. –Erasmus

Dreaming of the person you want to be is wasting the person you already are. –Kurt Cobain

You never do find out what makes you tick, and after a while it’s unimportant. –Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat any time and be yourself. –Hermann Hesse

I say, when your hair turns gray and your children think they know who you are, do the thing that shakes up who you think you are, even who you had prided yourself on being. When all those around you say they simply don’t recognize you any longer, that’s the real compliment. –Jane Smiley

Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing away of oneself and an eventual extinction. –Jean Dubuffet

In ourselves we harbor the intuition of another evolution, of other possibilities of life. –Abellatif Laabi

You have mourned over others; now sit down for a while and weep over your own self. –Rumi

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. –(?)

We were determined by public opinions of us. Would we think we existed without outside confirmation? And how long would we live apart from others before we began to doubt our existence? –Doris Grumbach, Fifty Days of Solitude

Don’t waste your time thinking about who you ought to be; just be content with who you’re becoming. –anonymous

It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not. –André Gide

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself. –Harvey Fierstein

... the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands. –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Resolve to be thyself: and know that he
Who finds himself, loses his misery.
–Matthew Arnold, “Self-Dependence”

What other dungeon is so dark as one’s own heart! What jailer so inexorable as one’s self! –Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables

There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self. –Aldous Huxley, Time Must Have a Stop

The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself. –Michel de Montaigne, Essays

My closest relation is myself. –Terence, Andria

I celebrate myself, and sing myself. –Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

It just seems like, you agree to have a certain personality or something. For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it’s even you? –Claire Danes, in My So-Called Life

Every time you don’t follow your inner guidance, you feel a loss of energy, loss of power, a sense of spiritual deadness. –Shakti Gawain

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. –Dr. Seuss

It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is. –Desiderius Erasmus

Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are. –Julius Charles Hare

Is life not a hundred times too short for us to stifle ourselves. –Friedrich Nietzsche

I shall never get out of this! There are two of me now:
This new absolutely white person and the old yellow one,
And the white person is certainly the superior one.
She doesn’t need food, she is one of the real saints.
At the beginning I hated her, she had no personality—
She lay in bed with me like a dead body
And I was scared, because she was shaped just the way I was
only much whiter and unbreakable and with no complaints.
I couldn’t sleep for a week she was so cold.
–Sylvia Plath, “In Plaster”

Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up. –Pearl S. Buck

No more Gifted Girl with Lots of Potential. No more grandiose intentions of being a writer when I grow up, never realized because the products never come right and so I’m safer to sit still than to start the inevitable failure. This is all the grown up I get to be. No more “dream” world, more perfect than the “real” world, waiting if only I can find the small golden key: in which I have love and rear my children without pain; in which I gratify my husband’s slenderest desire; in which I dust all the surfaces in my room every morning instead of at Christmas and Easter; in which I understand how to solve a basic quadratic equation; in which someone discovers all the poems I haven’t written and publishes them one after another in The New Yorker. There is one world—this world—and I have made it. No hope of a cure, ever, for being me. –Nancy Mairs, “On Living behind Bars”

Thank God for the needs of the body, the license to check out for a while when being awake and knowing who you are is enough to make you sick to your stomach. –Goldberry Long, Juniper Tree Burning

It occurred to me that the only thing we don’t have protection against is ourselves. –Nick

Isolation and belonging are not absolute, provable states of being. They arise completely out of the nothingness within you; you measure their dimensions against your own firm or shaky sense of who you are. –Paula Sharp, I Loved You All

I am never entirely assertive nor entirely shy; neither clever nor stupid; neither neurotic nor healthy. I am sometimes this, sometimes that. I am a constantly changing flow of awareness. I am only me—now. –David Reynolds

Pour out wine till I become a wanderer
from myself;
for in selfhood and existence I
have felt only fatigue.
–Rumi, Divani Shamsi Tabriz

When you come right down to it, all you have is yourself. The sun is a thousand rays in your belly. All the rest is nothing. –Pablo Picasso

And if the soul
Is to know itself
It is into a soul
That it must look:
The stranger and the enemy, we’ve seen him in the mirror.
–George Seferis, Part 4, “Argonauts,” from “Mythistorema”

Angels of the love affair, do you know that other, the dark one, that other me? –anonymous

When life as who you are is unliveable, you must become someone else. –Linda Katherine Cutting, Memory Slips

Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows. –Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet, #1”

The tragedy is that so many people look for self-confidence and self-respect everywhere except within themselves, and so they fail in their search. –Nathaniel Branden

And remember, no matter where you go, there you are. –Confucius

It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself. –Betty Friedan

Help me get away from myself. –Nine Inch Nails, “Closer”

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself. –Alan Alda

I was looking for a cheap miracle, something as absolute as the instantaneous division between Before and After that could be wrought with a cut—but permanent. Some door I could step through, some new life I could put on like a new suit of clothes, leaving my former self forever and irrevocably behind. –Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game

If you take responsibility for what you are doing to yourself, how you produce your symptoms, how you produce your illness, how you produce your existence—the very moment you get in touch with yourself—growth begins, integration begins. –Fritz Perls

… although many people say it is a terrible onus to be labeled bad as a child, I thought that the opposite must be worse: If you knew early that you had wickedness in you, you could learn to accept it, if not to wrestle against it. But if you believed that you were essentially good, then when you finally found the ocean of evil in yourself, surely it would come as a terrible shock. –Paula Sharp, I Loved You All

It is as though some old part of yourself wakes up in you, terrified, useless in the life you have, its skills and habits destructive but intact, and what is left of the present you, the person you have become, wilts and shrivels in sadness or despair: the person you have become is only a thin shell over this other, more eclectic and endangered self. The strongest, the least digested parts of your experience can rise up and put you back where you were when they occurred; all the rest of you stands back and weeps. –Peter Straub, The Throat

... but I’m always being invaded by others’ souls so I can’t see my own soul very well. –Shuntaro Tanikawa

Is there an existence that is only mine? –Russell Hoban, Kleinzeit

To rid ourselves of our shadows—who we are—we must step into either total light or total darkness. –Jeremy Preston Johnson

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die in one life before we can enter into another. –Anatole France

It is not the conscious changes made in their lives by men and women—a new job, a new town, a divorce—which really shape them…but a long slow mutation of emotion, hidden, all-penetrative… –Nadine Gordimer, The Lying Days

When you reach the bottom of the well of your own nature, then you will know that the vileness was from yourself. –Rumi

In the antiseptic world we try to purge ourselves of difficult things. Don’t dwell on it, switch off the light and go home. But this is home. I have to be a home to myself. I am the place I come back to and I can’t keep hiding difficult things in trunks. Soon the house will be full of trunks and I perched on top of them with the phone saying, “Yes, I’m fine, of course, I’m fine, everything’s fine.” The trunks shudder. –Jeanette Winterson, “Art and Lies”

I want to take a look inside, but I’m scared of what I’ll see. –Stone River, “Fables of the Fall”

I am alone here in my own mind.
There is no map
and there is no road.
–Anne Sexton, “January 24th”

I am moving deeper into my own brain. –Peter Porter, “Evolution”

I was an onion, layers and layers and layers under a thin, papery skin. If anyone had been able to cut me open, my bitter, irritating juices would have stung their eyes, and they would have cried. Although I couldn’t cry myself, much at the time.
But no one would cut me open. –Crescent Dragonwagon, The Year It Rained

Duration’s from within or not at all. –ditto

turning into another person
we have the look
of living
of beginning again
in a new latitude
we have the look
of being complete.
–Joyce Carol Oates, “Turning into Another Person”

For a man needs only to be turned around once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost…Not ’til we are lost do we begin to find ourselves. –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

My surface is myself.
Under which
to witness, youth is
buried. Roots?
Everybody has roots.
–William Carlos Williams, Paterson

There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms. –George Eliot