Back when I was religious, and struggling to fit into the frum worlds norms and mores, I would have many discussions with people about the problems that I saw and the difficulties I had in fitting into that society. Very often, people would say to me, "So don’t worry about what society does. Do you own thing!" Similarly, during the years that I lived in the Modern-Orthodox community, I was constantly judging myself by the standards of the chareidi world. When I spoke to people about this tension, they would say to me, "You shouldn’t judge yourself by what others think! Do what you think is right!"
As much as the idea appealed to me, I never really could take it too seriously. I used to think that was because I just didn’t have the backbone to be so independent. That might have been partly true, but another way to look at it (although I didn’t realize it at the time, and I doubt that those people who gave me that advice realized it themselves - since they were quite religious themselves) is that the idea of "doing your own thing" actually goes against one of the basic tenets of what my frum upbringing had taught me: The community (i.e. the torah, God, etc) sets the rules, not you. You can’t just do what you think is right, you have to follow the torah. If, back when I was in yeshiva, I had ever responded to my rebbe’s insistence that I observe some halacha with, "No, I truly don’t think it’s right, and I should do what I think is right!" rest assured, it wouldn’t have gotten me very far. Of course, it was understood that whenever people gave me such advice, they meant for me to stay in the realm of what halacha considers acceptable and that I should have chosen an option from within that spectrum of choices. But even within that range, the idea contradicted something much more fundamental: It suggested that I could somehow make a decision for myself in regards to my life, when all along I had been taught that I had to follow the advice of my rabbeim, or the gedolim, or da’as torah, or whoever it was, since they obviously knew much better than I did what was right for me. I suppose that if I had possessed any critical thinking skills at the time, I would have responded with, "No, I’m not allowed to do what I think is right! I have to do what my rabbeim tell me is right!" Of course, if they had possessed any of those same critical thinking skills, they probably wouldn’t have made the suggestion in the first place. (I guess it’s just one more example of the dual and contradictory messages that the frum world sends out, yet which very few people actually pick up on.)
The real irony is that, when you think about it, I actually did end up taking that advice very seriously! I do live my life now by what I think is right and not what other people tell me is right. Yet, I have yet to meet a frum person who thinks that’s ok!