Monday, April 29, 2013

On Being (Less Than) Unique

It seems like everywhere I look these days, there's another book or article or inspirational picture on FB encouraging us to "be ourselves." It's meant as an alternative to following the crowd (or feeling like a loser because you can't keep up).  That sounds so good, right? And yet when I read these calls to endless uniqueness, I get this twitchy feeling and feel like there's a gnat that won't stop buzzing in my ear.

Here's why: I think these articles are trying to shove us into a false dichotomy. They suggest that in life, we're either stomping around demanding to be recognized and appreciated for who we are, or wallowing in tearful pity as we lament over all that we're not. We're either the bold yellow M&M in this picture, letting our true colors show & smiling for the world to see, or we're flat and green and boring, just like everybody else.

But my life has more of a both/and quality.

For example:

This past weekend, we spent Saturday at the Newburyport Literary Festival. At one level, I was feeling great about myself as we rolled into the Newburyport Starbucks for a cup of coffee before the first event. Getting up and motivated on weekend mornings is not our strong suit, and I was thrilled that we were there with time to spare & a gift card to spend on lattes.  I was feeling like a yellow M&M. I'd even tried to dress a little bit cute that day because this was as close to a date as Steve and I have had in awhile (even though Princess Peach was with us and all the events we went to involved answering questions like, "What rhymes with rhinoceros?" & dancing to silly songs.)  But for all my trying, I failed to look cute. I grabbed the wrong pair of jeans and they were frumpy and so I felt frumpy which is a skid it's almost impossible to steer yourself out of.

Then, when we got to Starbucks, there was a Glamour Mom. She looked like Connie Britton: Her hair was
fully blown out at 10:00 in the morning, she was wearing an adorable, fitted top & a perfect little assortment of bracelets that made this pretty clinking noise as she drank her beverage. And of course, she had perfect jeans. Sigh.

It was a both/and moment: I felt great about myself for being out and about on a Saturday, taking advantage of this cool event so close to the city (because I love that that is who I am!), and horrible for not taking the nano-second to recognize the problem of the "these aren't date-night jeans...these are clean the bathroom jeans!" and change. (Because that's me, too.)

But there is another piece to this moment that I think is important: As I watched Newburyport Starbucks Connie, I took mental notes on why I liked her outfit so much. I sipped my latte, fished the straw out of Princess Peach's chocolate milk for the 19th time, and thought of items in my own closet that were similar, that might work for next Saturday. Of course, I can't magically grow five inches (did I mention that Newburyport Starbucks Connie was also statuesque?) But she's good at this looking-good-on-Saturday-morning thing, and I'm not. So why not learn from her?

I guess those "be yourself!" articles bug me so much because there are certain things I don't have strong opinions about, and I'd just as soon take a cue from someone else as I navigate life.  You can bet that next Saturday I'll be remembering both "pick the right jeans" and "it's been SO LONG since you wore bracelets, Trish...why not put some on?" thanks to Newburyport Starbucks Connie. And yes, if I take the time to blow out my hair, I'll look more like her than me (God willing). Is that such a bad thing? Underneath that fluffy hair will still be my brain, seeing the world and connecting dots my weird way, getting excited about things that seem mundane and scanning the world for the perfect orange purse.  Who knows what cool things are inside all those green M&Ms?

Today, if you have a free minute, consider: What things are unique & important to you, about you? And in what areas might you be perfectly happy to be a bit of a copy cat?

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