I write this still teetering on the edge of letting go of a belief that I thought defined me. I never wanted to be anyone but myself, and lived in accordance with that desire. And yet, if I try to look back and observe myself objectively, I was always studying something, it was just never a popular thing. What I was against was being the thing people wanted you to be. More discretely, I was most against being the thing other people wanted to be.
Every story I ever identified with revolved around the underdog. Nobody thought Rudy would make the team. Wesley the farmhand would outlast all the tests of villains and personhood to keep his promise to Buttercup. Andy Dufresne (pronounced “Dufrain”) kept chipping at that wall until he was free, and he used all those years to set up the sweet life he knew he would get to. Self-flippin’ belief. It must come from darkness and rejection and isolation. If you can birth it, existing in an environment of struggle will nurture it.
Terrible can get normalized. As can exceptional. The expectations are what define experience. Keep them low, and you will only surprise ‘up’. You can do your thing as you’ve always done it, without interruption or inconvenience. Eyes bring demands. Attention has a cost.
The only recognition point I ever cashed in was that I went to school with Kanye West. It was mostly for the kids, generally speaking to one in the attendance line who brought something up to trigger it. Within seconds word would spread down the line, and as they perked up to know more, I quickly minimized it. We weren’t friends. I don’t have his number. How many seniors do you actually talk to as a sophomore? I’m not sure I remembered or made up remembering him playing basketball at lunch or beatboxing at the back of the bus. I always picture him in same outfit, though. A planted seed to either conjure or condone reality.
Why would one bring up such a connection only to immediately downplay it? Perhaps to focus tired eyes and ears. Or give myself a bit of notoriety. Either way, it was a stimulus to gain attention, not to what we would do but to who I was — the smallest glimpse of who is standing before them is more that what she seems, with a story you probably couldn’t guess. I have something you might want to know, if you are willing to listen. I typically end the now group Kanye discussions with, ‘that poor guy lost his mind.’ A reiteration to all, including myself, that popularity pushes you in the wrong direction.
Growing up, I was not sought-after. Instead of lamenting on who and what I wasn’t, I noted all the perks of who and what I was. Under a cloak of invisibility I could observe things better. I could also test things better, because there wasn’t an audience or public reaction to my experiments. I could see what worked and what didn’t, and I could try to implement those things without added pressure of being seen. Even in all my sporting contests, I liked that nobody came. Others not caring let me do what I most cared about, according to my personal set of values and interests.
I learned long ago that there is no use longing for something you can’t have. Instead, it seemed logical to simply not want those things.
This is how one creates their own world. Questioning norms and looking at things everything else seems to find weird. No rules, no standards, just all the things you like to the degree in which you choose to like it. You learn to love the search and treasure what you discover. Furthermore, you can pivot, pause, and change directions on a whim. Without having anyone to answer to, blazing your own trail becomes a naturalized way.
You were happy alone, in this sanctuary of self. Happy looked like you wanted it to, and felt as much as you were willing. In both the present and hindsight it parallels contentment, but since you never knew a happy person that got much done, you capped it. Doing was enjoyable because it tested your capability. You were fed and fulfilled by making and checking off to-do lists.
There was always something to check on and monitor, something to imagine and build a way to get there. Direction became instinctual. What you didn’t realize, is that all this practice ‘doing stuff’ made you really efficient at recognizing what you (actually) need, devising a plan to get it, and then implementing said plan with purposeful pauses to reflect and evaluate. You knew how to provide space for change in the process of making change.
Refusing to want things I can’t give myself has made me excellent at providing, but the initial focus on myself has turned into an expansive effort meant to provide for others. There is here and here is there, connected by my willingness to look. Imagine if the Joneses gave all their extra stuff away. Would it make them more or less popular? If the eyes remained on them, would it be for what they do or what they have?