• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • January 10, 2016 in Columnists

    The power of being yourself

    Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
    Oscar Wilde

    When I was a kid, I wanted to be anybody but me. This didn’t change when I grew up. Surrounded as I was by people cooler than me, prettier than me, almost invariably thinner than me, certainly more valued than I was — although not necessarily smarter — why would I have wanted to be me?

    Yes, I knew the only person I could be well was me but this made no difference at all.

    I never actually knew how to be human. I bumbled through childhood being generally despised by family and schoolmates, never having the slightest idea what I was doing wrong. I reached late teens and early 20s without having any idea how to be a person and alienating people right and left. It didn’t matter that I loved dearly and cared truly — I was a personality klutz and people ran from me rather than merely walked.

    Somewhere along the line, I realized I was going to have to learn this human being thing and so I started observing people closely. This was not just the people-watching thing that most hominids will indulge in — monkeys love watching other monkeys. This was a serious study of how to be a person. What worked? What didn’t? What did it mean to be acceptable, to be welcomed — even to be charming? And what the feck was I doing wrong???

    I even took lessons from a therapist to learn how to meet peoples’ eyes and be trustworthy. I have to look at people when I talk to them? Oh.

    So I started trying on personality parts I’d seen other people wearing as if they were articles of clothing. Funny. Charming. Small talker. Philosopher. Arrogant. Exclusionary. Judgmental. Sarcastic. There’s quite a range and they all come in a variety of colors — some lovely and some truly appalling (they used the earth’s resources for that?????). Some fit well, some not so much. What wound up fitting was sometimes inspiring (philosopher) and sometimes horrifying (judgmental) but the one thing I took from it of most value was this — whatever it was I was, I was best being myself and being dead on honest while I was at it.

    That meant looking at myself and the world unflinchingly, no matter how appalling either of us was. It mean that when people lobbed a criticism, I took myself out of my closet, held that criticism up and checked for fit. It meant speaking with raw truth about my feelings, my nearly infinite list of imperfections, my failures, my hopes and dreams — how I’ve let people down and how I’ve succeeded in being what I wanted to be for them.

    I’ve been asked how I can be strong enough to admit my utter and abject humanity in so raw and transparent a fashion, to which I reply — didn’t you already know anyway? What point keeping it a secret? My failures have already been done better and with more style by others and by and large — they’re so fecking ordinary I don’t see the point of trying to hide them.

    If I haven’t told you about it, I simply can’t face it yet.

    Somewhere along this journey, I realized I was best when I was exactly myself. No more. No less. Honest. Open. Generally taking people for who they are until they prove untrustworthy. Loving. Wanting always to be kind but cutting when those I love are hurt. Peaceful at heart but a horror if you hurt a vulnerable being. Sometimes a little needy — sometimes very needy but willing to give back when it’s your turn to need. No gift of small talk. I babble when I’m nervous. You’d better tell me if it’s a secret, too — I’m getting better at telling if something should be kept sacrosanct, but we’re both safer if you say something. I’m an ambivert — one minute I’m the life of the party, the next I’m in the corner knitting or holding your cat. ADHD, a little OCD, my PTSD is a real problem if you startle me — in short, myself, whatever that is. Constantly evolving, often failing – a normal, abnormal human.

    And when I stick to that, generally I’m pretty happy and I can make those I love happy, too. It’s when I try to be someone I think is cooler or more together than I am that the sky starts falling and chicken little running and squawking ensues.

    You may not know who you are. It’s a never ending evolution, after all. That’s okay. Show us what you know of you. We’ll like you a lot better than any little simulacrum you have created in lieu of the real you. And if people don’t like the real you, that’s okay. You’ll never please everybody, but you’ll delight the ones who count…



      • Terri Connett

      • January 26, 2016 at 12:41 pm
      • Reply

      As always, Maya, so honest and so well-written. Fecking great!! 🙂

    Leave a Reply to Terri Connett Cancel reply