I have a wish for you this year, as we begin a shiny new decade. May you embrace whatever is true for you. May you embrace your “too.”
“Too” as in when friends or family tell you that you are “too fill-in-the blank.” Too smart. Too sassy. Too independent. Too sensitive. Too brash. Too bookish. You know what your “too” is. You don’t even have to think about it. Am I right? Because most of us have been walking around with this label from a very young age. Even the most enlightened parents cannot save us from the schoolyard bullies, the mean girls, the “well-meaning” bosses and teachers. And for some of us, the “too” began at home with those who were supposed to love us best.
“Recently, I was driving my daughter to school and she said to me, out of the blue, ‘Mama?’ I said, ‘Yes, baby?’ She said, ‘I’m the ugliest girl I know.’ And I said, ‘Huh?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, I look like a boy with long hair.’ And my brain went to, ‘Oh my god, you’re six. Why? Where is this coming from?’
. . . I said, ‘Well what do you think I look like?’ And she said, ‘Well you’re beautiful.’ And I was like, ‘Well, thanks. But when people make fun of me, that’s what they use. They say I look like a boy or I’m too masculine or I have too many opinions, my body is too strong.’
And I said to her, ‘Do you see me growing my hair?’ She said, ‘No, mama.’ I said, ‘Do you see me changing my body?’ ‘No, mama.’ ‘Do you see me changing the way I present myself to the world?’ ‘No, mama.’ ‘Do you see me selling out arenas all over the world?’ ‘Yes, Mama.’ ‘OK! So, baby girl. We don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl.”
Now that’s wisdom.
But let’s move beyond talking solely about appearance. Most of us come into this world with a trait or a talent that may make others uncomfortable. Or maybe they appreciate it but they don’t understand our full-fledged passion for it. Yet that same trait is usually the light that we share with others, the one that shines into some dark places.
It may be what makes us write a book or a song, brave adversity, fight like hell for what’s good and true. Bottom line—it’s integral to who we are. It’s our secret sauce. It’s my friend Traci’s over-the-top love for humanity, which made her an amazing social worker. It’s my friend Matt’s ability to cut to the core of any issue, bluntly. That made him a good C-suite executive. But in both cases, people around these movers and shakers may not have liked what was being offered to them. No matter, those gifts—from a huge hug to a clarity that sometimes stings—served a higher purpose.
I was a smart girl. “Too smart.” That made some of the kids around me uncomfortable in grade school, especially the ones who struggled with academics. It made the boys wonder what to do with someone who was more an equal than a giggly sidekick.
I was “too headstrong.” Still may be (wink, wink). That made my mother uncomfortable because she could not keep me close to home, dictate my friend circle, control my opinions to ensure they meshed with hers.
Are the wheels in your head turning yet? Are you walking down your own version of memory lane? Good. Stay with me.
I’m recalling umpteen conversations with well-meaning friends—friends who love me—in which I’m grilled on why I don’t date more. Or where a quick meeting for drinks or dinner turns into them scanning the bar or dining room for eligible men—for me, of course. Where they tell me I have to “get out there more.” I hear that I’m “too picky,” “too nonchalant,” and yes—“too independent.”
I want to be loved. Truth be told, as the youngest from a big family who live hundreds of miles away, I get lonely sometimes. I’m used to chaos and loud dinners and good-natured teasing. I envisioned marriage, a big family of my own, a busy house and a husband with whom I’d grow old and wise. And even sassier.
As it turns out, life took a detour. I try to see that in a positive light. I am alone, yes, as I was much of my childhood. I chose then to be alone with my books and my writing and my thoughts. And now, decades later, I am alone with my books and my writing and my thoughts. As I have been, really, throughout my life to varying degrees. While I know that can’t be a steady diet for weeks on end, there are times when my creative soul just needs to be alone so I can hear what it is I’m meant to say when I put virtual pen to virtual paper. It brings me joy.
And even when it doesn’t—when it’s frustrating and hard and I feel I have nothing of worth to write—it does. Because I write whether I’m read or not. Always will. That’s what a real writer does.
My well-meaning friends—who are educators, managers, doctors and lawyers—don’t understand. And the words that tumble out of their mouths, sometimes, seem to indicate that I should care more about finding someone. “Oh, I do care,” I say to them. It’s just that I’ve always cared about this other thing—my writing—more. I want to be loved. (But it’s going to take a really unique someone, as I tromp through the house musing about something in my writer’s outfits. Which is really a fancy phrase for baggy pants and misshapen sweaters and big fuzzy socks with my hair every which way—all while sporting my purple glasses. A fetching look, no? As I said, it’s going to take a really unique someone.)
Thank God I was too smart. Had I been a giggly sidekick, I would not have been able to get out of what had become an unhealthy marriage and support my kids.
As for being too headstrong, how fortuitous. Because without that trait, I’d never have moved to the Big City, had the career I’ve had, been published as many times. It takes a hard head to withstand all the hard knocks that come with putting yourself out there for a living.
In the same vein, thank goodness my friend Traci oozes love from every pore. She impacted her clients in a way social workers without that love can’t even imagine.
“Too” simply precedes someone else’s inability to stomach your particular brand of magic. You’re not for everyone, sweet thing. No one is. And anyone who puts “too” in front of a descriptor for you is probably not deserving of a front-row seat to your starring role. That’s ok. It’s as it should be.
So as you begin 2020, embrace whatever it is that puts you over the top. Some of us can’t wait to see it, to hear it, to feel it, to experience it. And if it brings you joy, it’ll likely bring joy to the world around you. You’re not too much. Trust me, you’re just right.