When I was a teenager I remember cringing when people would say I was so nice. I mean, I appreciated the compliment somewhat, but at the same time I always wanted someone to say I was smart and beautiful. Not nice. Nice was banal. Nice was stupid. One classmate even said once “oh, I didn’t know you were smart. You are so nice.” What was I supposed to say to something like that? I remember one year my best friend got me a shirt that said “heart of gold brain of spam.” Hahahaha. So funny. I laughed. I never understood why being nice meant that you had to be stupid and ugly.
When I went to college the first year I was also under the impression that being smart meant you were nerdy looking. You couldn’t be “femme” as the kids say these days. Girls couldn’t be both smart and girly. Basically, in order to be considered smart we all know you need to be as much of a man as possible. But then I went to a women’s college full of smart women who were also stylish, beautiful, and girly. They changed my mind. Women could look however they wanted to look and be smart. They didn’t have to fit into a box of computer-nerd chic in order to be smart—they could if they wanted to, but they didn’t have to.
Why am I telling you this? Because I got fired today. And because I’ve been fired from so many jobs I lost count. Because it sends me into a spiral of hating myself for being who I am and what I do. I think of all the times I’m not good enough. How I didn’t do the thing right, whatever the “thing” might be. How I’m superfluous and not valuable to society. How I’ll never be what I think I should have been. How I’m incapable of the simplest things sometimes.
But I had to stop myself from that spiral and remember the wise words from my teacher this term. He said you have to be you. You can’t pretend to be something you aren’t, because you will always end up being you anyway. That made sense to me. So, I looked at the image I drew of my teacher and reminded myself that in good times and bad I have to be me. I know that I made some mistakes with my job, but I also realized that part of the problem was that they didn’t want me, they wanted someone else. They wanted the girl who used to do the job, not me. They wanted me to come in and be her, and I couldn’t, because I’m not her. They wanted me to write like her and have the same story ideas and do the same things, but I couldn’t, so I didn’t, and it got me fired. I knew that they wanted her and not me the first week.
Sometimes the consequences of being ourselves, well, the consequences are less than desirable. When you are someone who exists on the margins of society consequences happen more often than not. Sometimes who we are is in such conflict with what society deems appropriate and valuable that we have to hide the best we can in order to survive, so I don’t begrudge anyone who can’t let their freak flag really fly.
I am the type of person who is pretty much incapable of hiding in order to survive. I try sometimes, but it never works out. So, the bit about being nice? Well, a number of years ago I realized that it wasn’t such a bad thing being nice. I’ve tried purposely being pushy in my life. That never worked. It just doesn’t pan out for me. I thought about it a lot and the people who I like and admire ARE nice, so why should I ever think that was a bad thing? I’m not always nice mind you (obviously), but if I tend to be a nice person in general, I guess it is okay. I like being nice to people. I like it when people are nice to me. People talk about how women shouldn’t have to be nice, and I agree. But what if that is who some of us are at times? I gave up trying to be forceful, pushy, and mean and decided I would work on being the nicest person I could be, because that is a quality I like about others. I don’t want to be fake nice. I just want to be nice in the amount that goes with who I am.
I also gave up trying to be a tomboy—something I never was. I embraced my inner femme and now dress pretty much how I want to. I don’t care if people think I’m a frivolous stupid woman for wearing a bow in my hair all the time. I really don’t care if they think I look ridiculous and dumb and uncool.
Still, the consequences for being me continue to exist and exert their power. Today after I lost my job I was reminded of that. It was me they fired. It hurts, and I struggle to think I still have value in a world that counts your value by the amount of money in your bank account and your ability to hold a job. I think about how I should have just done it differently, but the truth is, I couldn’t. There are reasons why I didn’t do the job like the other woman did it. Those reasons aren’t really important now, but I had them. If my boss had bothered to ask I’m sure I would have shared them.
The truth is sometimes people don’t ask, and reasons don’t matter. We have to live with the consequences of being ourselves. Does it do any good to wonder why I can’t be someone other than who I am? No. We can learn from mistakes, but we can’t un-become ourselves even when we really want to. Those are the hardest days. Those are the days I need to look at the picture I drew of my teacher saying “BE YOU” and remember that being me is the best part of the journey, not the worst. I’m typing this, so I can remember the enthusiasm my teacher spoke with about how “being you” is like an amazing gift to the universe and that we all have a place and purpose. It makes sense. Sometimes I feel it and understand it. On days when I get fired I just have to remind myself enough until I feel better.