You Aren’t Like Them: Timothy Leary’s Famous Call to Arms

Timothy Leary was an extraordinary man. An American psychologist and writer, Dr. Leary was an iconic figure during the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 70s.

While some folks dismiss Leary as a fanatic due to his well-documented usage of and advocacy for psychedelic drugs, I think doing so is entirely foolish.

Take a closer look at Dr. Leary’s life, and you find a spirited man who dedicated his energies to the promotion of peace, free-thinking, authentic individuality, the pursuit of passion, and intellectual rigor. For countless people, Leary was a guide and an inspiration.

Eyes Wide Open

Leary’s Profound Declaration

One particular passage of Leary’s is commonly cited, and with good reason. I first discovered this quote about a year ago (and also stumbled upon an awesome Zen Pencils comic version of it more recently), and I felt as if Tim was speaking to me personally.

I imagined him beckoning me to come in close and murmuring in a hushed tone of secret things, mysterious places, and ways of life that deviated from the status quo. In other words, the words spoke to me, as all of my favorite writing does. Here’s the quote:

“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the ‘normal people’ as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘Weather’s awful today, eh?’ you yearn inside to say forbidden things like ‘Tell me something that makes you cry’ or ‘What do you think deja vu is for?’ Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everybody carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others.
— Timothy Leary

What’s the Message?

The message Leary delivers in this quote is a powerful one. “Wake up!” he seems to shout, “There’s more to life than you’ve been told.

The quote is chilling because he’s telling us precisely what we’d sensed but feared to acknowledge — that we don’t really “fit in”, that we can never be like most people, that we’re different. This would seem to be a scary notion. However, Leary’s tone suggests that it’s quite the opposite. Society would have us believe that being atypical is cause for concern, but what if it were secretly a door to liberation?

Fitting in, being “normal”, is in fact a tasteless, bland, and ultimately empty life of conformity and timidity. Enchantment and joy are to be found in the uncommon and the unusual. There’s magic in the urge to forge one’s own path. Other individuals are waiting out there to help us, to befriend us, if we can but open ourselves to new people and experiences.

A better world exists if we can summon the audacity to rid ourselves of the instinct to mindlessly follow the dominant paradigm, the popular lifestyle, the ephemeral trends. Leary’s most central message is to be true to yourself — the deep self that most people never reveal. The one that wants freedom and love and adventure. The self in your heart; let it breathe.

Leary is saying all of this and more. I love the quote because of the ideas it expresses, but also because of something about it that cannot be put into words. It captures a certain feeling, a feeling that drives people to change their lives. I don’t think there’s a word for this feeling, but it’s a sort of hunch that rumbles from the depths of one’s being. It’s a fissure that gradually becomes a rift then an earthquake, causing the ground beneath one’s feet to tremble until it cannot be ignored. It’s a blossoming realization that must be understood by the soul before it can be understood by the mind.

Maybe you recognize the feeling to which I’m referring. Maybe you don’t. Perhaps it isn’t universal. Perhaps you won’t know it in your lifetime. I don’t know. All I can say is that something creeps up to let you know that you aren’t the person you wanted to be, that there’s more to this world than you had previously thought. Then you change, because you must. You find curiosity and passion and motivation that weren’t there before. Confidence and self-respect grow. Things begin to coalesce, to feel “right”.

To those who haven’t met this point and wish to, I can only advise you to seek. In the back of your mind, always believe that epiphanies are coming. Always focus on learning as much as possible. Think like a child. Keep both eyes and mind open, eternally. Be willing to entertain any idea. Look for teachers and signs in unlikely places. Reflect. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Look yourself in the mirror and ask if you’re content with where your life is heading. Care about living in the fullest sense.

Remember that in life, it’s quite difficult to find what you’re not really looking for. So stay alert, be patient, and believe that there is more. Really believe. 

My Rendition

I love the style of Leary’s quote. It’s a sort of direct confrontation, a kick in the pants, a call to arms for anyone who is ready to hear it. I decided to try to craft my own version of it, and that’s what I wish to leave you with in this essay. I can’t promise mine measures up to Dr. Leary’s, but I hope it resonates with you anyway. Take care, friends, and here’s my rendition:

“Admit it. You aren’t satisfied. You’re not entirely sure why or how, but you aren’t. A vague sense of lack, a question — is this it? — gnaws at you, keeps you up some nights. You should be happy, you tell yourself. You’re living the dream, aren’t you? Hip, classy wardrobe. Respectable career path. Connoisseur of TV. Internet extraordinaire. Sarcastic, detached personality. Gets a bit wild on weekends. Success, right? So they said, but you aren’t sure anymore. The “right”, “safe” things feel so… obvious, boxed-in, dinky. Some days you wish you could just burst into song on the street or make animal noises in a professional setting. You hear faint whispers calling you to the dangerous, the different, the bold, and the unknown. The half-buried dream. The maybe-someday travels. The secret project. The un-slain dragon. Follow the whispers. The hardest thing is to love who you really are and be that person but you must. Courage is rewarded, and life is a tenacious quest or nothing at all. Question everything. Startle yourself. Make somebody’s day. Ask her name. Bare your naked soul to all between land and sky and disregard the naysayers. You’re never alone. Find the others.”
— Jordan Bates

P.S. If you jived with this post, I’d be flattered if you’d share it on social media, “like” Refine The Mind on Facebook, or subscribe for free updates. Heck, maybe you’d like to do all three. 🙂

Photo Credit: Dan Foy

If this essay resonated, you'll enjoy my Dead Honest Newsletter, my list of Cage-Melting Books, and following me on on Facebook and Instagram.

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About Jordan Bates

Jordan Bates is a Lover of God, healer, mentor of leaders, writer, and music maker. The best way to keep up with his work is to join nearly 7,000 people who read his Substack newsletter.

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10 years ago

For the past few years(give or take a few years!), I’ve been going through a spiritual, emotional and mental change. I’ve been directed to articles and literature from the web and through physical texts that directly affect me on a level I have yet to completely understand. It’s almost like I needed to read these words in the way that they were presented and something inside me, really deep within, has been churning, in a good way. I’m from the hood, one of the worst of Pennsylvania, and I’ve always felt different. Since the age of 15 I truly felt… Read more »

Jordan Bates
10 years ago
Reply to  Taurusturtle

Hey man, Thank you for this. I really, deeply appreciate knowing that my words have been able to help you through a period of drastic change and transition. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot in your life, and I’m inspired to hear your story and know you’re reading and seeking and searching for more perspective and possibility than those around you. It’s not easy to do, and it can be very confusing and painful. I sure as hell don’t have it all figured out, but I share my ideas in hopes that they find people who can use… Read more »

10 years ago

All I can say is thank you. I’ve been struggling to put words to this for so long. It’s an incredible, overpowering feeling that consumes my mind and soul. For a while, when I was younger, I fought it-I thought it was wrong. But recently I have come to the realization that this feeling, this force, is what defines me and drives me.

This is beautifully written, I found it through Reddit, and I’ll definitely be subscribing. Keep up the good work.

Jordan Bates
10 years ago
Reply to  Salvationk

Wow, man, thank YOU. I can’t imagine what awesome things you’ll do for the planet, being driven by a feeling to learn and grow and explore. It’s a wonderful thing. Thank you for complimenting my writing, and I’m psyched that you’ll be subscribing. Don’t be a stranger in the comment section. Keep at it, and let me know if you need anything.

Vincent Nguyen
10 years ago

Jordan, that was a great article. When I was younger all I cared about was fitting in. Say the right things, wear the right clothes, and look like the right people. All of that was nonsense. Now that I am older I’m much less conscious of fitting in and I realize that people are much more drawn to me when I’m being… Well, me. As cheesy as that sounds, walking around on a daily basis without trying to impress anyone ironically attracts others the most.

Jordan Bates
10 years ago
Reply to  Vincent Nguyen

Vincent, Thank you. “As cheesy as that sounds, walking around on a daily basis without trying to impress anyone ironically attracts others the most.” This is so, so true. When I was younger, I was exactly like you. I wanted to please everyone, wanted to be popular, didn’t want anyone to criticize me, etc. So I tried hard to fit the mold and blend in. A few years ago, when I was finally able to stop caring as much, I started to find that people gravitated to me. And it’s a day-by-day thing, trying to unlearn being overly self-conscious. However,… Read more »

10 years ago

was this from any of his books?

Jordan Bates
10 years ago
Reply to  Cat

Hey Cat,

I’ve been unable to find the source for this quote. I only know that it’s credited to him all over the web. Sorry!

7 years ago

Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain…but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life that there’s something wrong with the world, you don’t know what it is, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad. It is this feeling that brought you here.

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