The Difficult Path of Individualism

June 4, 2023 Joanna Satterwhite

Today, individualism is more challenging than ever. This week, I've been thinking a lot about The Fountainhead, a novel by Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American writer and thinker who's been largely slimed by 21st-century progressives for her conservative political philosophy. The Fountainhead, however, deals not with politics but with self-hood and being an individual.

The story follows Howard Roark, an idiosyncratic architect who refuses to bend to the popular principles of his field. Time and time again, Roark is threatened with the end of his career if he doesn't bow to the preferences of the masses, and time and time again, he refuses to give in. Eventually, he comes out on top. The novel is, of course, fictional; reality might not have delivered success to Mr. Roark.

The Winding Path of Individualism

What does feel realistic about the story is how difficult it paints the path of individualism to be. Our culture is obsessed with identity—sure—but it derides the individual. A person who thinks well and truly for herself can't be easily classified into a simple bucket. She can't be sold to; she can't be relied upon to deliver a certain response; she can't be trusted to toe a line. Such a person is a menace, and she's treated as such. Life for the true individual is a solitary and often uncomfortable affair.

Individualism isn't a slogan on a shirt. It's a contract made within one soul, a relationship you have with yourself, and a breach of it results in nothing short of existential death

If the path is treacherous and the consequence of falling off of it is lethal to the soul, why would you pursue such an intense relationship with yourself? The same reason that you'd pursue any real relationship: because it makes you stronger, better, and more evolved. Love isn't flirting, and it isn't sex; it's not entertainment or whispered sweet-nothings. There are plenty of other things that love isn't, but one thing that love certainly is, is a lesson and an ongoing commitment to learning it. This involves profound humility and a willingness to change. Loving someone else isn't particularly easy. Loving the self might be even harder. If either can be achieved, though, the lover evolves towards her higher self. This evolution should be a primary goal of anyone taking the miracle of existence with its proper gravity. 

You Are an Individual

I don't have advice for anyone seeking to be an individual other than it's worth it. It's worth it to abide by your own soul and to learn the lesson that you and you alone can deliver to the world. It's worth it to be your own first student. To attempt to offer any other kind of guidance would be to rob you of your own potential individualism. 

Ms. Rand writes:

"It's the hardest thing in the world—to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage."

Anyone is capable of this kind of courage, but not everyone musters it. The path of the true individual is tread by the few, but it's their lessons that revivify the world. 

APA Reference
Satterwhite, J. (2023, June 4). The Difficult Path of Individualism, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Joanna Satterwhite

Joanna is a writer and teacher based in Atlanta. Find her on Substack and Instagram

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