My niece Mina is one of my favorite people. Yes, she’s cute and the fact that she thinks that I’m the cat’s pajamas doesn’t hurt. But my favorite thing about that kid is that, from the jump, she has been unapologetically herself. She has always had the kind of self-assurance that most adults would find enviable. Seriously, I’d ask her for pointers if it wouldn’t call the adult/child dynamic into question.
A couple of years ago, we were at the Rochester Museum of Play. She was maybe six or seven at the time. She and I had broken off from the rest of our group and found ourselves at the museum’s theater. There’s a little stage area for the kids to put on “shows” for their grownups, some costumes for them to use, even a curtain to add to the drama. It’s all as cute as it sounds. I was “backstage” with Mina where we encountered three other kids, two girls around her age and a little boy who I just assumed was the annoying little brother of one of the girls. They all clearly knew each other and were playing together, digging into the costume bins, throwing things around, having a grand old time. I watched Mina kind of timidly make her way over to the costumes, pick up something, put it down, all while trying to stay out of the way of the other kids. She was hesitant and shy in a way I’d never seen her be before. Eventually she wandered over to me, while tugging on an over-sized dress. I asked her what was up.
“I’m afraid they’re all going to laugh at me,” she said softly.
Holy shit. Moms and Dads of the world, I don’t know how you do it. In that moment, my heart, which has been mangled more times than I care to count, broke in a way it never had before. It took me by surprise; I’d never heard her say anything like that before. I felt that sharp sting in the back of my nose and the tears that always follow started to fill my eyes. Just as quickly, I got fiercely protective.
“Hey, you listen to me. NO ONE is going to laugh at you. And if they do, you tell me and I’ll talk to them.” (I’m sure that’s not the proper way to handle that. There’s a reason I’m not anyone’s mom: I’m not appropriate for children.)
She shook it off, took the stage, did her thing, and it was on to the next play station. She didn’t bring it up again but the whole thing really bothered me. It made me sad to think of this great kid worried about what other people thought of her. Already. And the more I thought about it, the sadder it made me. Then I figured out why it was bothering me so much: I was afraid that she might be turning into me.
Under this awesomely bitchy and sarcastic exterior lies way too nice of a person. At my core, I just want to make everyone happy and for everyone to like me. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve had it in my head that my opinion of myself doesn’t matter as much as what other people think of me. I don’t think I was born this way and I’m not going to spend too much time speculating how I got to be this way—that’s what I pay my therapist for. Suffice to say, trying to make everyone happy all while trying to gauge your worth based on the opinions and judgments of other people is a hard way to live. I routinely found myself in relationships, jobs, friendships where I seemed to endlessly need to prove that I was worth their time, attention, praise, love, respect. And no matter how hard I tried, it never seemed to be good enough. Over time, I started constantly policing myself–what I would say or do–out of fear of what someone would think. Don’t make that joke, they might not get it and think you’re just a bitch. Try to be pretty but not too pretty, you don’t want people thinking you are full of yourself. Don’t speak up, you don’t want them to think you’re a know-it-all.
It’s exhausting. And depressing.
At the peak of my misery, all out of energy to jump through any more hoops, I just tapped out. I opted to just try to hide instead. I kept to myself. I kind of folded in on myself, trying to be smaller, to not be noticed. If they don’t see me, then they can’t judge me. Yeah, it’s as sad as it sounds. And then one day I heard something that really resonated with me. It came from Jim Carrey, of all people. Fun fact: While he’s not always my kind of funny, every now and again he says some pretty profound and insightful things. In his commencement address at Maharishi University, he said, “Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Risk being seen. In ALL of your glory.”
Dude. That one really hit home. I remember washing the dishes (where I do most of my deep thinking) later that same day and really realizing just how much of my life had been lived out of fear. So many of my life decisions weren’t at all about what I really wanted; they were made based on what would garner the least amount of criticism. I was playing it safe, even if that meant abandoning the things I really loved. There had been no dream chasing or risk taking. Dream chasing? Please. I wouldn’t even engage in dream talking. Because I was terrified of what people would think. And then I thought about my very last day, when I’m laying on my death bed, do I want to say to myself, “Well, my life was overall pretty mediocre. I never felt completely comfortable being myself. And I never so much as mentioned those dreams I had. But at least those people thought goods things about me. I think. Maybe. Hey, where are all of those people now, by the way? Oh, they couldn’t make it? Oh…weird.”
FUCK to the NO. That’s crazy talk. Life is so short. I can’t spend another day worrying about what people think. I’ve learned the hard way that there will be people for whom your best, your everything, will never be enough. No matter how hard I try to reign myself in or put myself out, I can’t win. So I’ve decided: If I can’t win no matter hard I try, then I’m just not going to play anymore. I have made the conscious decision to stop giving a shit what people think. I am just going to do me and that is just going to be the end of that. I’m a good person and a good time. And if you are too busy judging me to see that, then that’s your bad. This party is going on whether you RSVP or not.
If you want to be happy in this life, I think first and foremost, you have to stop giving a flying fuck about what other people think about you. 2016 is all about the Reinvention of Raina Becker. I have neither the time nor the energy to waste on worrying about what someone else thinks about that. And above all else, I need to lead by example. Because I want my niece to see that the only things you ever need to be in this life are kind and brave. Everything else is pretty much bullshit.