“Trust yourself. Think for yourself. Act for yourself. Speak for yourself. Be yourself. Imitation is suicide.”

~ Marva Collins

Marva Delores Collins (1936-2015) was an American educator, born in Alabama, but spent most of her teaching career in Chicago. Concerned about the quality of education available to black students from impoverished families, Collins started the Westside Preparatory School in 1975 using her personal funds and ran it with her daughter for the next 30 years.

As a retired educator, I found myself identifying with her story, despite the fact that our circumstances were not similar. Throughout my career, I happened upon many educators who, like Collins, were deeply dedicated to the well-being of their students. It is from this perspective that I reflect upon her words. I am drawn to this short quote because it consists of six short, yet powerful exhortations – each in a separate sentence.

As a person in the autumn of my life, I know that living well is synonymous with continuous learning. I need to know facts that are new to me, skills that will serve me well and new understandings that will enhance the daily living that I do. Collins tells us, “Trust yourself.” Often, a lack of confidence will supply daunting obstacles in the path of new learning. Certainly, there are people who are my intellectual superior, but I need to trust enough in my abilities to set out to learn new things in a deliberate way. Establishing self-trust is a crucial first step.

“Think for yourself.” Sometimes people rely on other people’s thinking because they don’t trust their powers of analysis, and sometimes it stems from a desire to be in agreement with what appears as the current wisdom. Either way, it is a denial of self. No matter our level of education or type of life experience, we all have the ability to apply reason to any and all circumstances. If we are to grow beyond who and what we are at the moment, we need to think habitually for ourselves.

Next, Marva Collins exhorts us to, “act for yourself.” We make many choices of action every day. Are we choosing well? Do we attempt to please others and fit into the expectations of family and social group? If we analyse a situation and decide on a course of action based on our values and moral compass, then we act for ourselves. To act in this way is the freedom of choice. The flip side of this coin is the acceptance of the consequences of our choices. In other words, we must act in a way that is true to ourselves.

“Speak for yourself.” Do I seek the asylum of the majority by appearing to communicate on behalf of that group? Do I legitimise my ideas by identifying them with those held by others? If I do, I’m no better than a mindless fool who lacks the intestinal fortitude to speak my ideas and claim ownership of them. I need to shed my fear that I may become unpopular in the process. It is an essential part of personal growth.

As well, we are encouraged to, “be yourself.” To thine own self-be true. If I follow all of the preceding precepts, I will be myself. I need to trust who I am and respect the process of becoming. I will make mistakes. I may become mired in a rut that discourages personal growth. The path to becoming a better person is never without obstacles and setbacks.  I need to be sure that I do not make the mistake of selling myself out.

Finally, Marva Collins shares this truth, ” Imitation is suicide.” If I spend my life sculpting myself into an imitation of the majority or the most popular or the most successful, then where can I be found? There are people in this world who are amassing fortunes by selling their wares based on the appeal of ‘imitation’. If I wish to be ‘cool’ or fit in, then I must buy the latest fashions and colours – or the latest technology. I would rather impress someone by who I am than by what I wear. My soul is the greatest of all treasures, and it must be nurtured as the unique entity that it was created to be.

About John Fioravanti

Author, John Fioravanti writes non-fiction as well as fiction in the sci-fi genre. He's a retired secondary school educator and a lifelong learner. He considers himself a work in progress and welcomes the opinions and insights that others may have about his work. He prizes dialogue about meaningful topics, so please leave your thoughts!


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    Natalie Ducey

    January 12, 2017 at 1:14pm

    John, your reflections are one of my favourite things to read. I often pause and reflect on your words, gaining insight from my own journey of self-reflection. I can say, with complete certainty, that you are and always will be a teacher I’ve come to respect deeply. For that I offer my heartfelt gratitude. I’m at a place in my life where I honour and respect the process of becoming. It’s a beautiful place to be. 🙂

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      John Fioravanti

      January 12, 2017 at 3:07pm

      Wow, Natalie – such a beautiful thing to say… thank you doesn’t seem to be adequate. I’m humbled that you find these reflections to be meaningful and helpful. Thank you for making my day!

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        Natalie Ducey

        January 13, 2017 at 6:24pm

        You’re very welcome, John! I imagine many of your prior students hold you in highest regard. To carry your gift forward as a writer and author is truly inspiring. A legacy to be proud of for sure. Enjoy your weekend! 🙂

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    January 12, 2017 at 6:50am

    Another brilliant, thought-provoking post, John! Thank you for sharing this with us. We have developed a world of followers instead of a world filled with individuals who create their own paths in life. I am hoping that the mindfulness trend keeps growing and, with it, a return to the self.

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      John Fioravanti

      January 12, 2017 at 8:01am

      Thank you, Yvette for your very kind words! It is fascinating that individualism was one of the foundational principles upon which your country was built – and yet all that seems to be forgotten. This is true in my country too. However, all great undertakings must start with self – to fashion ourselves into individuals who are seen to be embracing all others no matter what trivial differences exist. In my view, the fact that we are so similar to each other, eclipses our differences which become inconsequential. Thanks for your ongoing support, Yvette!

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    January 11, 2017 at 4:34pm

    Excellent piece, John. “To thine own self be true.” Indeed. I am me. I am one. I think and speak as one.

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    Rhani D'Chae

    January 11, 2017 at 1:40pm

    That’s a fantastic post! Definitely gives much to think about. Thank you for sharing.

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    Gwen Plano

    January 11, 2017 at 1:12pm

    Wonderful reflection, John. It may take some of us a lifetime to truly embrace this wisdom, but when we do — what miracles await!! Thank you…

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      John Fioravanti

      January 11, 2017 at 1:30pm

      Thanks, Gwen, I appreciate your kind words. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever arrive at that stage! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    The Coastal Crone

    January 11, 2017 at 11:54am

    Excellent post and lessons for all at any age! I like the way you broke her quote down to analyze it in your own way. At this age I like to think I don’t follow the crowd any more.

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      John Fioravanti

      January 11, 2017 at 1:28pm

      Thanks for your kind words! I think achieving true uniqueness is a gradual process. I just hope that at my age, I’m getting better at it!

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    Mae Clair

    January 11, 2017 at 10:32am

    Fabulous post, John. The breakdowns of each element from Marva’s quote are excellent. Interesting that if we start with the first one, “Trust yourself”….the rest will surely follow.

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      John Fioravanti

      January 11, 2017 at 10:37am

      Thanks for your kind words, Mae. I was struck by the fact that Collins started with self-trust. But it is very basic to the rest of her recipe. If there’s little or no self-trust, the rest will not follow!

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    Anne fioravanti

    January 11, 2017 at 8:28am

    I like this article about truth and the real thing .
    That is the way I felt about Obama – he was the real thing and feel so sad to see him go

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      John Fioravanti

      January 11, 2017 at 9:47am

      I agree, Obama is the ‘Real Deal’ and the world was lucky to have him for 8 years!

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    Jan Hawke

    January 11, 2017 at 8:26am

    That is one collection of marvellous quotes, John! 😀

    I do have a superficial caveat on the final one however… Imitation is a fundamental and highly practical learning aide.It’s how we learn to talk/communicate, walk and interact with others from the we emerge from the womb.
    As we age, and for writers in particular, we also gravitate to people we admire and want to emulate and this also involves a form of imitation. We all have heroes and, for writers, they invade our own work because reading them has affected the way we write ourselves. I’m not talking about blind imitation, but I can trace traits of Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Austen and many more favourite authors in my writing, because they’ve been my teachers and shown me good habits.

    I’m sure that perspective must be compatible with what Miz Collins is saying? I was just a little taken aback at the vehemence of her take on it, which seems to denigrate any form of imitation.

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      John Fioravanti

      January 11, 2017 at 9:53am

      Thanks, Jan! I can see why Collins’ statement about imitation could be interpreted as you have. However, taken in the context of the previous five statements that preceded it, it is clear to me that Collins intended no such thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the types of imitation that you have used in your examples. It’s when we succumb to the ‘herd mentality’ that Ani spoke about, that we lose our sense of self – hence the term ‘suicide’.

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        Jan Hawke

        January 11, 2017 at 12:12pm

        Thanks, John. I thought that must be the case, but ‘suicide’ is a very emotive word to use around me most days, so it’s down to me letting it spark my hair triggers… 😉

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          John Fioravanti

          January 11, 2017 at 3:46pm

          LOL! I love that expression… “spark my hair triggers” Thanks for your ongoing support, Jan!

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    Ani Manjikian

    January 11, 2017 at 5:37am

    Although all this is very true and very inspirational, our society is based around the herd mentality. It’s easier to control, and create momentum in, the group mentality, than it is to rope in single individuals. However, that way of thinking and doing things has gotten us into trouble. We all need to rethink how we think and accept the infinite diversity in infinite combination principle (yes, my Trekness is showing… :)) and celebrate the uniqueness and inspiration that comes from individuality. It the only way the human race will survive..

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      John Fioravanti

      January 11, 2017 at 8:25am

      I agree, Ani, and the thousands of commercial and political ads that bombard us daily are ample evidence that the herd mentality is alive and well. We do need to nurture and preserve our uniqueness each and every day. Thanks for stopping by with your comments, Ani!

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    January 11, 2017 at 12:39am

    John, this is such a marvelous post. It really does say it all for me. Thank you so much .

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