For a good year or so of my life, I wanted to be another blogger, a woman who is exceptionally good at writing about happiness. I envied her tremendous online following and book success, but I was also jealous of her subject matter. I toyed with the idea of recasting myself as a happiness expert instead of helping people with mood disorders because talk of happiness goes over much better at happy hours and mom get-togethers. I was sick of being Ms. Embrace-the-Darkness.
“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight—and never stop fighting,” wrote E. E. Cummings.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s version is this: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
I run into this conflict more than I care to admit. I wish I were less sensitive, less neurotic, less cup-half-empty. I wish I were inherently more self-confident, needing less affirmations and gold stars to legitimize my contributions to the world in my roles as an employee, wife, and mother. I wish I had an easier time letting things roll off my back and going with the flow.
However, I am what I am: highly sensitive, fragile, and insecure. I have been told over and over again that those traits that I consider weaknesses contribute to my strengths. They allow me to connect with others more intimately, to bond with strangers and readers and other people in my life, to intuit when my kids need to talk about something.
A former professor of mine once told me to adhere to the words of St. Francis de Sales, “Be you very well.”
He had nominated me to give the commencement address for my alma mater, Saint Mary’s College. My first draft was from the heart, about how falling on your butt is sometimes the best thing you can do, because, as Leonard Cohen writes in his lyrics for “Anthem”: “There’s a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
When a friend of mine read it she told me it was depressing, that commencement speeches should be inspiring. So I revised the speech into a Dwayne-Johnson-ish script of happy, motivational sound-bites.
My professor read the second version and told me to go back to my original draft because it was my journey through darkness that he thought would speak to students. He picked me for this honor not despite my sensitivity, insecurity and challenges, but because of them.
“Nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations,” writes Anna Quindlen in her book, Being Perfect. “What is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the world of becoming yourself.
Be you very well.
Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.