Are and Be
During my first semester freshman biology class, I sat a few seats away from a girl in lecture hall who was clearly not happy to be there. Nervous as I was, I was so excited to finally be away at school. I couldn’t understand how someone could seem so unhappy when things were just starting.
I remember trying to strike up a conversation with her and all I remember was her telling me that she was supposed to be at Yale, not at a SUNY (State University of New York) school, where we both found ourselves sitting together. I inquired what happened. As it turns out, she didn’t get accepted to Yale. Minor detail, I suppose.
Only 17 at the time, my witty comebacks were not in full force yet or I probably would have found a nice retort like: “I get it. I’m supposed to be on a date with Cindy Crawford right now….but she’s not returning my calls.” (Yes, Cindy Crawford was the supermodel at the time.)
Years later, I was meeting with a therapist and trying to explain how I really wanted to find a way to be calmer and have a free-wheeling way about me. I described it as “the surfer dude”- able to ride the waves, take it day by day and just letting life be – the kind of guy that doesn’t get easily rattled. I’ll never forget her response. Having barely met me, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this but that’s not who you are.” Well, I guess she found a way to tell me, after all.
The ego can be stealth-like when it wants to be. Just when you think you are making progress on the path to self-awareness, you realize you are caught between who you want to be and who you really are.
This is not a straight line realization, either. At least it wasn’t for me. First, in phase 1, I had to let go of trying to be the person I thought I should be – whether it was the guy able to do everything himself like my dad or the multi-faceted 21st century man who had respect at work, love at home, coached his kid’s baseball team, knew a lot about wine and still managed to train for a marathon. Believe it or not, it was not obvious that none of those was ever going to happen.
Then came phase 2 where I was focused on becoming the “real” person I was meant to be based on all my interests and my “authentic self”. This was a challenge to try to balance, at least for me. I have a lot of interests and when I really get into them it is easy for me to start fantasizing about a life where these things are successful endeavors that redefine the way in which I spend my time and show up in the world. At first, I couldn’t understand why this was causing so much angst. I mean, I gave up on being the dude in phase 1 of my denial so what was the problem? The problem was that I was thinking about who I wanted to be as if I wasn’t already that person.
Winning a Grammy doesn’t make me a musician anymore than writing a song in my bedroom does. My ego just tells me so. Fantasizing about a father/kid trip where we go deep into our relationship while climbing Half Dome doesn’t make me anymore of a dad than it does when holding my tongue during a weekday dinner. My ego just tells me so.
For a long time, I would wake myself out of these types of visions and remind myself that there is a difference between who I am and who I want to be. The only difference may be the things I want to do, but not who I am. I think this pandemic has given many of us more time than we ever could want to think about things that maybe we were happy to not obsess about in the past.
If you’re like me, make sure you’re not too hard on yourself and realize that there is a big difference between doing and being. You don’t have to do, do, do to just be sometimes. You might surprise yourself, and your ego, that you actually are already who you hope to be.
Until next time,