I have been reminded lately of who I am by being shown who I am not.
I prefer self-definition via positive affirmation along the lines of “I appreciate simplicity” or “I value family time.”
Recently, though, I am shown who I am and what I value due to my distaste and aversion for what my fellow humans sometimes show me.
Nothing like a bit of clarity to start your New Year, right?
The woman who screams over the phone about how her team has been working weekend after weekend, insinuating this is how it should be. That those of us who take time to be with our kids on the scant two days we have for them per week (with, ostensibly, no work obligations) are slacking. Did I mention this was about two weeks before Christmas? I’m sure her team appreciated missing family and holiday prep time for the six weeks prior.
I am not the power hungry. Not full of blind ambition.
My ambition is tempered by the events of the past several years. I have been shown what is important.
I am not the executive who has no regard for the boundaries between work and family. I am not one to make someone else feel less than because they do not subscribe to my values. If an executive wants Top Dog status this badly, so be it. But to make everyone within firing range suffer because of blind ambition? No thank you. I prefer to treat my coworkers as human beings for whom work is just one aspect of life. Not all of life. And I think I produce quality results without killing my teams because of it.
Perhaps this is because I had a mother consumed by her career. And in the end, which I was there for, it gets very lonely. You realize all that pushing and striving—all that achievement—tends to fade like a dusty book jacket. This is a lesson many of us have yet to learn. In the meantime, executives like the one I described will caterwaul their way through team after team, leaving an ugly wake behind them. So be it. But I intend to stay out of that wake.
I see ever so clearly the West Coast man who epitomizes the plasticity that tends to come with that address. The man who name drops at every turn, performs the Tim Gunn once-over of your outfit before deciding if you merit his conversation, throws out snap judgments on everything from the latest young starlet to the low IQ of those who watch network prime-time shows.
I am not superficial. Not plastic.
I am, instead, painstakingly human.
I value people for who they are. Not what they wear. Not who they know.
I don’t appreciate ego—in myself or in others. And I probably swim in circles where there is far too much of it. “Don’t show what you don’t know” is the rule of the weak. I roll my eyes as I listen to stories and diatribes meant to up someone’s profile. I keep quiet about the major designer with whom I chat more about our kids than her new clothing line. Or the rock star, A-list stylist and the supermodel I have on speed dial.
I don’t speak all that differently to the rock star stylist than I do to my elderly neighbor (who wouldn’t know a stylist from her hairdresser). People are people. And your name dropping simply shows me how affected you really are. If you did not feel the need to impress me, these names would never come up in conversation—as they do not in mine.
I am an absence of pretense to your excess. So be it. That simply means I find your pretense nigh on unbearable. As you may find me.
There are times I am sure people see me as naïve because of my desire to keep things simple. Kind. Real. Just because I do not regale you with a sarcastic, razor-sharp wit does not mean I do not have one.
Some of us, in knowing very clearly who we are, have weapons in our arsenal we do not use.
That’s called restraint. Maturity. Wisdom. Kindness.
We are brave enough to be called a fool for believing in humanity, kindness, honesty. In being real.
And we generally are rewarded. Perhaps not as quickly or showily as those of the blind-ambition ilk are.
The difference? Our rewards tend to last. As yours, my dear plastic friends, are fleeting or empty. It’s tough to enjoy that big house on the hill when your family deserted you for your long hours at work years ago. Hard to have a lunch with friends where you laugh until you cry when they stopped showing up because they knew, deep down, the snarky comments flew out of your mouth later about what they said, or wore, or ate.
I have seen the end. Seen both of my parents die. Something about that, if you are a thinking person, gets priorities in order ever so quickly.
I know who I am. And who I am not.
Which makes me one of the lucky ones.
I am far from perfect. Faults galore. But I do not leave a wake characterized by raucous ego, pretension and one-upping.
Those things I am not.
I say it proudly.