“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world . . .
. . . Risk being seen.”
So said comedian Jim Carey in a recent commencement speech.
He talked about his father, who could have been a great comedian but didn’t believe in himself enough to pursue this path. After many years miserable in a “stable” job he hated, his dad ended up being laid off by his company. And feeling like a failure anyway.
I thought of my dad, my dad who yelled like a lion roars and yet teared up at every birthday, anniversary and milestone his family passed. His love was as fierce as his anger.
The yelling came from a place of misery. A place born of an emotionally bereft mother who did not love him the way a son can be loved—and a father who died when my father was young. Of family wealth lost by a mother with more spirit than sense.
My father joined the military, sent what little money he had home to his mom and never finished college. He had such promise as an architect, a chef—bringing his creative talents, exacting as they were, to the world.
He sold suits instead.
By the time I came along, his string of jobs as an entrepreneur, an internal auditor and a councilman were done. He had given up. Selling suits at a downtown department store was a job, not a calling. Not a career. Just something to help put his daughters through private school and pay the bills.
I do not understand people who are vanilla.
I’ve tried to keep that promise. Because vanilla is misery. Vanilla is trying to get yourself out of bed just one more day.
My dad was a “nice guy”. Out there in the world, he wanted to be liked. To be accepted. In a way his mother never could accept him. He did not dare to be seen because he had been seen—and rejected. His need for approval from anyone in authority was intense. And that’s always a scary proposition.
My mother was similar. I felt I had been seen by her—and rejected when not perfect. My choice, however, was not to be vanilla. My choice was to hurt like hell while growing up in her household. Hurt for being myself. Hurt for being seen.
But damn it, I was not invisible.
And for that, I’m eternally grateful.
Some people say that they don’t care what others think—but you can tell they generally do. It’s easier to be vanilla, isn’t it? It’s easier, if less satisfying, to be unseen.
I tell my sons they’re here to do great things. Things only they can do. We all are. I believe we all sign up for this tour of duty with a unique mix of talents. Our job is to rediscover, once we get here, what we meant to do with those talents.
The price for that? We will sometimes make people uncomfortable.
So be it.
Vanilla is not a flavor.
It’s the path of least resistance. It’s a way not to get hurt.
I’ll risk being seen, thank you very much.