I think I was probably eleven when my dad told me that I should find something that I was good at and then spend my time getting really good at it. His point at the time was that for me, it probably wasn’t football. He was definitely right about me and football, but was even more prescient than it might first seem.
Of course, he was also right about most other things that consume our time and effort. It doesn’t make much sense to give less than our best effort to whatever we commit our energy and resources. Hobbies and casual pastimes may not need or warrant our best effort, but whatever truly matters assuredly does.
I was certainly long past being eleven but am not sure exactly when I understood that Dad’s point also applied to something much more fundamental. As hard as I tried emulating or imitating my heroes and role models, I was never going to get it quite right. As good as they were at being them, I was not going to ever be good at being them.
Sure, I went through some discomfort and self–doubt as I struggled with what I believed might be some inadequacy or personal deficiency. To borrow a phrase, I feared that I just didn’t have “the right stuff.” I think it was about then when I questioned whether I was on the right track. Perhaps trying to be someone else was just one of those things that I wasn’t very good at doing. Maybe for me, it was just another version of football.
Julius Charles Hare said, “Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.” Walter Kaufmann put the idea this way, “Rabbi Zusya said that on the Day of Judgment, God would ask him, not why he had not been Moses, but why he had not been Zusya.” Barbara Cook’s version of “Be the best you that you can be” went like this, “Find out what is unique about yourself and get in touch with it. If you are able to be yourself, then you have no competition. All you have to do is to try and get closer and closer to that essence.”
I think you likely get the point. Perhaps you got it a lot more quickly than I got it. Even so, I did figure out that I was already a lot better at being me than I would ever be at being someone else, hero, role model or super star. They were good at being them and I was good at being me; and my edge was that I could and would get even better at being me. It was something that I could get really good at.
E e cummings’ advice here is worth a moment’s thought, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. Raymond Hull added the down side of not fighting, “He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.
Judy Garland cuts to the chase with the point I am pursuing and that Dad would similarly pursue were he here to advise us, “Always be a first–rate version of yourself, instead of a second–rate version of somebody else.” Fanny Brice beats that drum equally loudly, just in case we still aren’t hearing the message, “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?” I suppose it might actually be true that good things come in threes so let’s let John Mason fill out this hat trick, “You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.”
I find that I have arrived at one of those decision points that come up when writing or podcasting or perhaps when doing most anything else. Is it time to stop or do I have just a little more? I think the answer is probably Yes and Yes; so if you are on the “enough is enough” side of it, feel free to stop. If you are on the “keep going until your done” side of it, I have just a few more instances of wise people making the point for us.
• “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” (e e cummings)
• “There is just one life for each of us: our own.” (Euripides)
• “If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” (Johann von Goethe)
• “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” (Steve Jobs)
• “The strongest force in the universe is a human being living consistently with his identity.” (Tony Robbins)
• “If you are ashamed to stand by your colors, you had better seek another flag.” (Unknown)
• “Best be yourself, imperial, plain and true!” (Robert Browning)
• “What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.” (Carl Rogers)
• “There lurks perhaps in every human heart a desire of distinction, which inclines every man first to hope, and then to believe, that Nature has given him something peculiar to himself.” (Samuel Johnson)
• “You must have control of the authorship of your own destiny. The pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand.” (Irene C Kassorla)
Now you know, so there you go. And what does it take to be who we are? For each of us, if it is to be, it is up to me, no exceptions, no excuses.