Vanilla is not a flavor


“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.

After watching my father’s misery, and being subjected to it for many years, I swore I would not compromise more than necessary. He had become vanilla just to get by.blueberry ice cream isolated on white background

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.

It’s invisible.

I’ll risk being seen, thank you very much.


16 Comments Add yours

  1. Can totally relate with the courage it takes to be seen, read, heard. It’s a daily struggle for me. I thank God for the platform and courage. Pray it touches others…Yours does!!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! I do believe the vulnerability is worth it–most days, I believe it:). And the select few I don’t, well–that’s where friends and good red wine come in:).

  2. Chris Edgar says:

    Interesting — my first thought as I read this piece was “yes, I’m risking being seen as well by putting my music out there” — and yet, most of my writing, as opposed to being self-revealing, has now become a vehicle for getting the word out about music projects I’m involved in. In a way, then, I am partially hiding. I have the desire to get back to more writing that’s simply about my own experience. I guess it is time to do that again.

    1. candidkay says:

      It’s not easy though, is it? To put yourself out there in writing for angels and trolls alike to see. Bravo to you for having the courage.

  3. I hope you don’t mind, I’ve put your name forward to answer four questions on writing

  4. A great post with great analogies.
    I do believe that vanilla IS a flavour, but has no colour – there is a difference.
    Sometimes accepting what we have and loving it (rather than seeking greener pastures that may not exist) is OK. Accepting vanilla, if we can be happy with that, is OK. But if we want to make a difference in the world, if we want to be seen, if we want to truly make something of ourselves, then we may need something with a bit more colour than vanilla.

  5. Kate says:

    life is about growth and balance….. sometimes vanilla is a better choice in the moment. but you are right, staying vanilla for a lifetime is stifling and bordering on destructive. We ARE more than that! thanks for writing this piece – great fodder for discussions with my children about choice and choosing to be more, say more and be noticed in a positive way!

  6. Cindy Tartz Dadik says:


  7. Powerful post that evokes a response. I feel for your father, and for anyone trapped in a job, relationship or life that stifles them. What I’d love is for us all to be the best we can be. Then I confess that sometimes I choose invisibility and sometimes I like vanilla. There are times when I don’t want the world to notice me and it’s enough that I’m doing and saying what I feel I need to do and say, even if just one person listens. Thanks for yet another great post.

    1. candidkay says:

      I know that feeling well, wanting to be vanilla for a moment, an hour, a day. I think it’s the lifetime choice that damages, not the short-term escapes. Thanks for reading . . .

  8. Jim Simon says:

    Very interesting

  9. Wow. What a great piece. Certainly gets the juices flowing.

    You nailed it on this one.

  10. A very strong piece, Kay.

  11. lmarieallen says:

    Thanks for being an inspiration today:)

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