“Thank you. Sorry! What do you need me to do?” Sometimes, my politeness feels like a curse. A nervous tic that won’t go away. Like I was born into a self-prescribed caste of utter subservience.
“Well, what’s your gut telling you?” “What is your recommendation?” My managers have always said, gently nudging me to come to a decision on my own. “Well I guess…” I’ll rattle off a decision and be on my way, pleased to know that my inclination had been right and convinced that next time around, I’ll try not to ask for validation.
In the most recent season of Mad Men, Peggy what we’ve almost expected, that she’s sometimes felt like she’s had to act like a man. Peggy’s had a few drinks, and is babbling on about how hard things are to a poor, unsuspecting secretary. This isn’t the eager-to-please secretary we see Peggy as in the first season. Maybe she’s been forced to play a part she wasn’t entirely comfortable with, but as she slurs her words and leans back on the couch, Peggy seems to have gotten comfortable in her new authoritative role and in the new thick skin she’s grown for herself.
Which Peggy was the true Peggy? The meek, timid one or the bold, brash one we see in later seasons? How much of “me” can we still be when we shed skins and correct our flaws? Are we new and more polished versions of ourselves, when we can confidently BS our way through presentations, or are we betraying the people we really are? What’s more, is that timid subservience a natural reaction to an unfamiliar situation, or is that an unnatural phobia we’ve picked up along the way?
Dan Harmon, the genius creator of “Community,” (and runner of the show when it was good) says of a talent I’m always petrified of trying, “Storytelling comes naturally to humans, but since we live in an unnatural world, we sometimes need a little help doing what we’d naturally do. [Story Structure 101]” I hope that’s true. And even if it’s not, it’s given me the courage to try something new, because what if it’s an important part of me that I’ve been missing out on?
As I get older (though sadly, not much wiser), I’m much more interested in the concept of one true and natural self. The philosophers I caught wind of at Skidmore, who have since blended together and eventually dissipated from my brain, are much more relevant and interesting to me today.
Maybe I’ve finally reached a point in my life in which I decelerate. Maybe it’s stop to reframe my focus to be more about shedding false layers than piling on more notions of myself.
How do you define yourself? And how much of that is your own prescribed identity for society’s sake, as opposed to your honest interpretation of self?