Genuine: The Effort Involved In Learning To Be You and Me #atozchallenge

G: Today’s Deb-Blog Has Been Brought to You by the Letter D for Discovery of Self and the Letter G for Genuine: The Effort Involved In Learning To Be You and Me

Oh sure, Marlo Thomas, I get how important it is to be genuine and to accept others, in kind. I also get it’s easier said than done outside the lovely, Utopian, “Free To Be You and Me” message. In truth, there is nothing more important and nothing more difficult than being genuine, being one’s true self. It’s a lifelong process. And we change and evolve within our world, our time, our experiences, our intellect and with the tools we possess. Accepting everyone for who they are is a beautiful way to start childhood. But adult reality and even most childhoods encounter plenty of obstacles to being “free to be me.”

My decade-long hiatus from employment, while Dad was with me, left me changed in unimaginable ways. I was no longer the person I was before that fateful morning a police officer retrieved me at four a.m., informing me Mom had passed. And I’m still trying to figure out my life and my future. But the non-profit manager role certainly didn’t give me joy or offer me any valuable creative outlet, anymore. Maybe working for a dysfunctional employer right after Dad passed didn’t help. But maybe it was a gift. You see, sometimes chiseling away society’s labels and slipping out of the pigeon holes that we were pushed into along the way is the way to self discovery. And that job was rife with pigeon holed people. Yikes!

During those years with Dad I designed and nearly single-handedly built a second addition to my house. I wanted Dad to have more sunny space and adding equity would mitigate no income a bit. (I’m a saver and paid cash.) Of course, Dad and I shared a love for politics and social issues and I was afforded the time to volunteer for Democratic (and democratic) campaigns and causes. And I returned to my communication strengths. 

Here’s the thing many don’t consider when you are a stay-at-home daughter, verses a stay-at-home mom or dad raising a child to independence; You don’t know when graduation comes. And you don’t get society’s praise for the person in your care because yours is no longer in the world. You’re just alone. Very alone. Besides this experience changes you but even without this major life event. the world changes a lot in ten years.

Lately, I’ve been recalling who I was as a four, five and eight year old, before most of us get labeled. G Growth Development FeatureRediscovering what inspired me as a child, where I was drawn and what was drawn to me gives me a sense of calm, and it feels real to the core. And when coupled with wisdom from life’s experiences, I like the connection. I’m grateful. It means I am better able to give my best to the world, for what it’s worth.

I read this quote by Alfa (Alfawrites) a few weeks ago and heard my mom.

“You are going to meet people who are intimidated by you. You’re different. People don’t know how to react or how to accept people who don’t follow the crowd…They are not used to someone who doesn’t fit in — so instead of bolstering your uniqueness, they’ll try and make you feel like you’re weird or damaged. I’m here to offer some well- earned advice: Screw them.”

Please note, my mother would never use the words, “screw them.” But the first part, “[P]eople…are intimidated by you. People don’t know how to react to you,” is what Mom would say as I encountered hostile and unexpected obstacles and interactions. And she wasn’t one for empty praise. She saw me for who I was. She saw it even if I was trying like hell to blend. As a kid – especially an adolescent – you don’t want to stick out, or at least I didn’t. In hindsight, I wish I had been brave enough to develop that part of me that was there at eight or even fifteen and that endures to this day. Instead, I focused on how to be more like my peers. When my high school adviser informed me of my exceptionally high I.Q. score (which I feel icky even writing here), I think I told my mom but never told anyone else. 

Maybe other only children can relate, but you can learn a whole lot by observing the world and it all leads to questioning why a whole lot more than those with siblings. I’d quietly study everyone at weddings or any large get-togethers, learning from the pack and observing social norms and practices. Maybe I noticed the absurdity in many of these social stages and, intellectually, I had a disconnect leading me to march to the beat of my own drum.

A lot of it is figuring out where you don’t fit, through rejection, criticism and that visceral feeling like your an oyster in the shell being irritated by sand. One moment while I flashback to past friendships, relationships and jobs. Ah, but that discomfort is critical to becoming.

The New Road Traveled: Look What Improv Has Done to Me

I have been taking an improv class for a couple of months and just participated in my first open stage performance last week. Talk about flying without a net. For most, the thought would be terrifying but for me, it’s perfectly comfortable up there. A year ago I never would have predicted I would be writing that sentence. And the idea to study improv came to me spontaneously, as well, which fits since improv is all about spontaneity and acting impulsively. Because I am drawn to public speaking and the stage, improv seemed like the freest place to broaden my options. So I found workshops at the HUGE Theater in Minneapolis and began my journey.

It’s a class of around a dozen people, one teacher and a teaching assistant. I am learning all the basics in improv like it’s always your turn, failing is winning and just how to support and nurture my fellow actors. The more I do it, the more I want to do it. It’s not exactly like heroin, but more like crack; not everyone gets addicted right away but if you do it regularly, it will get you hooked. Now I need it. Nothing balances the absurdity of everyday life like embracing an absurd concept coming from you head or fellow improv actors. It’s the most fun I have all week!

The years I had Dad here with me, when I stepped away from paid employment, transformed me. I pledged I would not squander the life and the gifts Mom and Dad gave me. I stopped holding my funny, snarky and sometimes biting tongue when observing the world, its politics or my own daily encounters. I completely lost my tolerance for the petty workplace trifling some call office politics. As I peel away the layers of the old skins that no longer serve me or this world, I am beginning to accept, discover and reawaken aspects of my true self. I am a writer and a raconteur, not a non-profit manager or some boss’ pin cushion, but if anything strikes me amusing in that old bag of nuts, I promise to share.

Part of taking the old path to terminal office pallor and early death was diminishing my own intelligence. It has only been lately that I remembered my high I.Q. results being a discussion in high school. I’m not going to replay ancient history but I am going to own and trust my head and know I will survive this new road not yet traveled.

I saw the signs before in jobs that simply bored me to tears, sucked the oxygen from the office like a raging inferno and always made me feel the outsider. Any time a department did the latest inter-office, interpersonal dynamic discovery workshop, the what color is your parachute or underwear or unicorn waste of $20 grand and three days, the room would look like everyone just learned I had typhoid – all would be huddled in one group and I would be way over there somewhere, the different one. I always knew I was different but I thought that difference provided the value, the creative piece. And it probably did. I just wasn’t providing any value for me.

Today after class, one of my new besties asked me if I was an ENFP, a Myers-Briggs personality type. I revealed I was an ENFJ and about five others chimed in they were either my type, his or one letter different. This was after we’d just laughed ourselves to tears and nearly wet our pants over a three-hour lunch. It’s a moment I won’t forget. I found my people! I wasn’t the odd one on the other side of the conference room, unless that was what worked for our improv scene. But when I am with this group, all the funny and joy and wit in my head is appreciated and encouraged. I love them. I hope they read this. I hope HUGE Improve reads this. You have changed my life. The puzzle pieces of my life are moving directions so I can see how it fits together.

I have tried to explain my transformation to old friends and acquaintances. Many dear friends were still around while Dad was with me but besides not being part of their social life then or much now, they also still see me as the non-profit manager. And when I begin to describe this new path, they don’t quite know how to respond. Maybe what I have chosen frightens them. Change frightens a lot of people. Or maybe they don’t believe in me.

If I had to, I could go back to the old job, life, mindset. But I hope in another couple of weeks that will no longer be the case. Because I want to bring my best to this life and this world. I hope Mom and Dad are watching in the wings, laughing – hard. They got me here.