Sunday, May 18, 2014
5/19/14—Realizing You're Special
She had a very set course in mind. There was a boy, you see. And she wanted him to see her riding in a convertible. She was probably going to marry him.
I'll be the first to tell you I suck as an aunt. I'm just not interested in kids and I can't fake it. I was born without whatever gene that takes. They're cute in short doses while they're being cute, but then I lose interest. It's not a flattering admission, but it's true.
Anyway, on this occasion, I really enjoyed doing laps around the neighborhood so that this boy could see my adorable little pistol of a niece looking cute and carefree in a convertible. And I'll never forget asking her during this ride what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer, to this day, is the one of the funniest things I've ever heard. She said that when she grew up, she wanted to be popular.
For years, I've thought about her answer. There's a certain honesty to it. A certain shallowness to it. And a definite sense of humor to it. But more recently, I've begun to see the utter wisdom in it. When I grew up, I wanted to be a veterinarian. An actress. A writer. Famous. But beneath the careers and labels, what I really wanted to be was special. I think if most of us looked inside, we'd find something similar. Popular. Special. Famous. To somehow stand out. To matter. To be something worth remembering.
Intellectually I already know I'm special. You know you're special, too. Each of us has a combination of gifts that others admire in us. Maybe you're extra pretty. Or extra smart. Or a talented artist. Or gifted mathematically. And there are the capabilities that make us notable. Maybe you can roll your tongue. Move one eye separately from the other. Speak multiple languages. Talk to the dead. Or like one reader here, make a menacing fist out of your toes. :D When you add up all the gifts, skills, limitations and oddities—physical, mental, emotional or otherwise—there is nobody else with the combination of traits you have. And that's pretty much the definition of special. It also makes you uniquely qualified for your life and your journey here.
In one way or another, we all think we're special *enough*....special enough to fall in love, get married, be a parent, get promoted at work, hone our skills. I had to think I was a "special enough" writer to do it as a freelancer, for example. And that's not just saying that I had to think I had talent worthy of a high hourly rate, but I also had to believe I was special enough in the right ways to deal with the other 5000 challenges of being self employed. So we all have to believe we're special enough in whatever ways to be where we are in life, wherever that is. But there's a whole greater level of specialness we have to believe in to attain our full potential.
I mean, you and I have no idea of what Oprah's private life is like...what goes in on her private mind. But there's an element of "who the hell am I to have fame, an extraordinary career, billions of dollars, the world's best best friend and a long-term relationship with a handsome man who, despite his own successes, is not crushed by the idea that he'll never be Oprah?"...there's an element of that that can cripple you. Unless you have the esteem to say, "who the hell am I to NOT have those things?" Not to go off on an Oprah love rant, but she never seems to let fear of failure or inadequacy hold her back. She knows she's "special enough". Despite her upbringing. Despite racism. Despite her weight issues. And that's just it.
We have a thing in society where we don't want anyone thinking they're too special. People who think they're special are egocentric and full of themselves. We consider it a bad thing. In fact, pride is one of the seven deadly sins, right? So all around us we get messages not to think too much of ourselves. Don't go thinking you're too special....especially if you're short. Or unattractive. Or not book smart. Conversely, we're often reminded to remember our limitations. And that serves to keep us down. So we're socialized, in many ways, to view our strengths through the lens of our weakest link. Oprah has even talked about the times her weight *almost* held her back, but she pushed on despite it. I'm just projecting here, but I believe that's because something inside her knew she was special.
Like I said before, we're all special. We should all have that thing inside us that makes us apply our strengths and abilities with such determination and vigor that we utilize the full breadth of our possibility in this world. But most of us don't. Most of us are either happy enough feeling "special enough" that we don't dare aspire to more. Or we suspect we have so much more to give, but who are we to think that when we can't even balance a budget, lose weight, etc.? Maybe what Oprah realized early on is that her shortcomings have absolutely no bearing on whether or not she can interview people...or if they do have a bearing, they can be used to interview with compassion, for example.
I've been thinking a lot about this, lately. Somehow, I got to be 50-freaking-1 years of age and I'm having some health struggles right now. It has hit me that, regardless of how I feel inside, I'm not in my 30s anymore. And most of my life, something inside me knew, at the very least, I *could* be special...that there was more specialness inside me than I put out into the world. And while, in my case, that might translate to reaching more people with my words, it doesn't have to be about that. It could really just be about being a kinder, more thoughtful person, creating more art...whatever it is that keeps you from being the person you always suspected you could be.
And it's not something anyone else can do for you. I get so much encouragement to write books and take my show on the road. But I continue to hesitate. You have to believe within yourself that you're worthy of whatever level it is that you hope to attain. I have to believe I'm special enough to make a difference in peoples' lives on a large scale. I know there are many out there who need to believe they're special enough to have a man love them despite figure flaws or whatever. And the thing is, we all ARE. We just have to get all the voices inside our head out of the way, whether they stem from our insecurities or from society or from someone important who didn't believe in us long ago.
Anyway, long story short, I've been feeling more special lately. Maybe that's the gift of 51. I do think if I died tomorrow, I could do so without regrets. I've done a lot with my life. But I do feel the desire to do more. I wouldn't regret not doing more, because I know I did all I was capable of. But I'm getting more and more motivated and excited about stepping into my "extra special" suit in the coming years. There's a saying, "it's never too late to become who you might have been." The quote is attributed to George Eliot, a woman who knew she was special enough to write fiction that mattered, even if she had to take a male pen name to do it.
So that's today's story. I'm special. You're special. Where are we falling short of fully expressing that? And what is it that needs to shift within us in order for us to do something about it? The answer will be different for each of us. All of us reach a point where we just have to put our insecurities and the voices of society and others down and say "I've lived for you long enough. Now it's time to live for what's beautiful and unique about me." Either that or we die without ever known what we're capable of being. I think 2014 and my 51st year is my year to finally get it. I think I'm ready lay down the fears and insecurities I've been dragging around for so long. Or at least transmute some of them into something helpful. They're just too exhausting. They no longer make sense in the context of my bigger plan. It's time.
I'd be remiss not to mention that my niece is now in college. She hasn't married that boy from the neighborhood. But she is popular. She's special that way. She's also smart and funny and thoughtful and a bunch of things she might not even realize yet. My hope for her and all of you is that she's not afraid to claim all that's special about her and that she navigates through life through the lens of her gifts.