Taming Our Mammoth- Or Finding Our Authentic Selves

Caveman and mammoth. Ice age. Vector illustration

taming your mammoth or finding our authentic selves
Taming your mammoth

Taming your mammoth…or finding our authentic selves

Months ago, when I first read Tim Urban’s funny and whimsically illustrated article, Taming the Mammoth, I was so intrigued by the illustrations and lighthearted banter in his quirky waitbutwhy.com website, that I decided to do a post on his essay. Thus the super cute image of the caveman taming his mammoth. Keeping it for a time when I needed content… like now.

Here is Urban’s list of the primary obstacles implicit in finding our authentic selves:

  • Our desire to conform, belong and follow was once an evolutionary adaptation in a culture requiring protection from wild animals.
  • The weighty effects of others’ opinions on our choices and beliefs is therefore wired into our thinking patterns.
  • The result is real, and tragic: the extreme risk of losing our “authentic selves” when we conform, allow the opinion of others to mold our personalities and life choices.

His use of a mammoth to illustrate is…ingenious.

Whether or not the humiliation suffered in childhood child was real or imagined, Urban’s use of that small boy’s innocently honest answer to a taunt is powerful. Few of us escaped childhood without similar ridicule- or the fear of it.

Using an extinct mammal from prehistoric times as a metaphor for imaging the power of others opinions, fear of rejection and ridicule is brilliant…on more than one level. While alive during the Pilcoene Era the mammoth weighed five to six tons with males sometimes reaching twelve tons. An authentic behemoth which describes most vividly, the potentially weighty and harmful effects of others’ opinions, however they are expressed.

Society has evolved to accommodate this mammoth-feeding frenzy, inventing things like accolades and titles and the concept of prestige in order to keep our mammoths satisfied—and often to incentivize people to do meaningless jobs and live unfulfilling lives they wouldn’t otherwise consider taking part in.

Why You Should Stop Caring

Although Urban wrote this piece six years ago, his imagined “Social Survival Mammoth” has assumed epic proportions in our “connected” society. It took me many years to learn that my unpopularity in junior and high school along with what I called my “emotional retardation” became an advantage in my “unconnected” life.

Maybe because I was never invited into the popular groups of girls, their opinions of me failed to register. Or perhaps because my first date did not happen until I was eighteen, the ‘normal’ coquettish girl-boy conversations was a language I never learned. Or maybe because it was my father I wanted to mimic, not the three other women in my family. Or…as has been suggested more than once, I may fit under the rubric of neurotypical or neuroatypical to explain an obsessive need to work and preference for solitary pursuits- like writing. All of which means that I have escaped some of the weight of the mammoth but not

The Fear.

This post was all fun and games until “start being yourself” came into the picture. Up to now, this has been an interesting reflection into why humans care so much what other people think, why that’s bad, how it’s a problem in your life, and why there’s no good reason it should continue to plague you. But actually doing something after you finish reading this article is a whole different thing. That takes more than reflection—it takes some courage…

Tim Urban

Just why we fear digging down into ourselves to speak out loud about what we yearn for…the deepest part of our hearts is a complicated and deeply personal question. Or just why unhappiness can be preferred to happiness is something I have thought and written about for much of my life.

When I began this nth career of writing fiction, the voices in my head were stupid, irrational and wholly imaginary. I knew this. But the fact was, I could not shut them up for far too many years.



Finding what Tim Urban calls finding our authentic selves is a life-long process.

At least that has been so for me. But see, here is the thing…we don’t have unlimited time to figure this out. And unlike Urban’s sardonic view of the end, I believe that death is not the end, but is the beginning. For we are a unique combination: a spiritual being inhabiting a material one. And unlike many of my fellow Christians, I am convinced that I am not assured of a place in heaven. This life is not a test.

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