The Art of Being Yourself

When the sky makes a rainbow after the rain, it doesn’t flash a knowing smile, cough on its fingernails, rub them against its shirt, and say, “Did you see my rainbow?” And if it’s a stormy, ick day, hail and sleet, the sky doesn’t cower in a corner, apologizing. The sky just is.

I’ve long wanted to be like the sky. To sort of sit there, cross-legged, on the cusp of where the atmosphere turns into space, and watch the events of my life unfold with some distance. I’ll shine my stars for sailors looking for their way home, and make sure the sun rises in the morning. But I’ll also have tornadoes. I want to be like the sky. As impervious to the good shit and the bad shit that happens to me as the sky is to weather.

Last summer on the Fourth of July, I met a guy who was down for the weekend from a little mountain town in California where he worked on a golf course. And this poor guy: he committed party foul after party foul.

He spilled beer on the very pregnant hostess wearing the nice blue dress. He knocked a painting off the wall, which snapped the plastic piece of the light switch off with it on its way down. But he was very kind. And funny. Just for the hell of it, he had straightened his red hair, donned thick, seventies-era prescription glasses, this lazy, close-mouthed smile that wasn’t his, and a Members Only jacket, and he had gotten his driver’s license picture taken. I laughed harder looking at this guy’s license picture than I had in months. I was beside myself. He, who against one million to one odds had lost his wallet in the ocean and then twelve hours later, retrieved it from a lifeguard, looked like Jamie Escalante from Stand and Deliver.

But even though he was funny, a lot of what he said wasn’t funny. It was heart-wrenching. “You shoot under 90?! No f*^%ing way you shoot under 90. I work at a golf course, and I can’t even shoot under 90. What a piece-of-sh*& I am. I golf all the time, and I can’t f**$ing shoot under 90.” This continued. “I am so sorry about the beer. I am such a POS. I don’t even f*%$ing belong here. No wonder I don’t have any friends.”

It was the way he said it. Like if his tone had been different, or he’d said less I’d think differently. I hugged him, tried to tell him he was “fine” and “it was an accident.” I wanted to wrap him a blanket, like he’d been lost in the snow for hours, hand him a cup of hot chocolate and say, “There, there.” And the truth is, I think it bothered me a lot more than others at the party. I felt like every Facebook comment I had second-guessed, every photo I hadn’t liked, came rushing to the surface like a million little deaths.

Looking at him, at this person I met only once and will likely never meet again, I was saddened. Not only because I’ve felt like he has. But also because it’s really hard to win when you’re not on your own side. It’s difficult to become better at being yourself – to sing that one note you’re meant to sing – if you are thwarting yourself at every step.

I have thought too much. Wasted too much energy on whether or not I was doing the right or wrong thing. But not all days are the same. Some days, I think I am the bee’s knees. Or I am filled with joy for no reason. Not because I am in the winner’s circle, but because there’s a blue, participant ribbon pinned to my chest. I feel alive at the fact that I support myself. Overwhelmed with gratitude thinking that my kind-hearted, yet terrifying-to-strangers father, always listens to me, even when the problems are the same.

We often look into the mirror, or onto our Facebook pages, for confirmation that we’re beautiful, young, popular. Rather, what we should be doing is looking into the mirror with questions. Who am I? Why am I here. How am I going to be better and better at being here.

Butterflies only live for about a month. It’s like we’re butterflies and instead of checking out the cool park on the corner, we’re looking in the mirror worried we’re not the most successful, best-looking butterfly. And I have done my fair share of this. No! Not being a butterfly! Geez… (Or have I?).

Maybe you believe, like I do, that each person has one note they’re supposed to sing during the course of their life. If you do believe that each person has a purpose, then you should know that you’re not supposed to be Angelina Jolie. You’re not supposed to be Margaret Thatcher. You’re not supposed to be thin. You’re not supposed to make X amount of money. You’re not supposed to get married. You’re supposed to get better and better at being you. Better and better each year, every day, at the thing that makes you different. The thing that makes you happy.

We think humility means not talking about your PhD at a dinner party. But there’s a definition of humility I heard recently that I like a lot more. Humility is thinking about yourself less. And I gotta tell you: I would love to think about myself less. Less about my missteps. Less about my exes. Less about the number of friends and followers I have, and the list goes on. This whole “thinking about yourself less” thing, in fact, sounds like the best thing, since…well, anything ever.

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