I think, for the first time in my life, I finally stopped asking myself, is this okay? Is what I’m like okay? What am I missing? As a human, a friend, a contributor to society?
But before I got to this point, I had to ask myself where this paralyzing fear and self-consciousness was coming from.
For most of my life, my unconventionality has often been mistaken for being aloof. When people explained or taught things to me, they would think my blank stare meant I didn’t understand what they were saying. Or when I looked off into the distance, pondering about life, I would be labeled as having a “lack of focus.” During the times I felt like I was being my most honest, thoughtful, and authentic self, people would ask me why I was so “emotional.” It was so ironic that the world that encouraged me to embrace who I was with no qualms... didn’t seem accept who I was.
And just like every pre-teen or teenager seeking to love and be loved in return, I became more and more sensitive and insecure. Every single glance, piece of constructive criticism, or negative response I would receive would bring me to the verge of tears. I remember thinking to myself after a hard day, “I wish I could erase my emotions. My life would be better if I didn’t feel as much.”
I would look at those “badass” characters in TV shows and movies and wish I could be as cool, as unfeeling, as objective. Because whether it’s relationships, friendships, hardships, or even academia, approaching things with detachment is more preferred than with attachment. When journalists analyze history or current events, it’s far more important to view things from a critical lens rather than an emotional one. When debating with a friend on social issues, it doesn’t really further the argument when someone says, “I can’t explain. I just feel it.” When the friend that you like as more than a friend doesn’t like you back, life is much easier when you know that it’s logically just because you’re incompatible–not an attack on your personal character.
So yes, logically I know how I’m supposed to think and act. Yet, in honesty, I didn’t really change that much.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “writing is easy. You just sit on a typewriter and open a vein.” He was right. Writing was the first time I felt like I could be myself, open veins of emotions flooding everywhere, and be rewarded for it.
When I was in the 7th grade, I started writing my feelings every night in a public domain on blogspot.com on a whim. When I went to school the next day, people would tell me that they really related to what I said, that they admired my vulnerability, that they felt the same way but just didn’t know how to say it. I never felt so proud to be myself. I would feel hurt when people would criticize my writing, but it never made me stop. Some would visit it just to laugh about how dramatic my life was, but others would look forward to it everyday.
It didn’t matter to me either way, because I was the only audience I catered to. People who initially dismissed me would send me direct messages on Facebook saying they thought what I said was beautiful, that I shouldn’t stop, and that they didn’t really know or understand who I was (or the depth I had), until they read the things I had to say. A lot of these people ended up being some of my closest friends later on.
When I started journalism school, I stopped writing for myself and started writing for others. Editors don’t like it when you write like this. They won’t accept pitches like this. Who cares about your silly blog, you want to be published in a credible and renowned publications! We need engagement, we need views! You need to make money. Don’t get me wrong, mainstream content gets a bad rap for being meaningless. I did create many things I’m proud of. However, I felt the most fake when I focused more on my own self promotion rather than my stories. But, that’s what every journalist has to do to get their work seen, right? What’s the point in writing something if no one reads it? There’s nothing wrong with creating for others, as long as you remember that the voice that matters the most is your own.
Tavi Gevinson, one of my favorite writers, touched on this topic well.
“I used to think the idea of legacy was all about ego and could not imagine how it could help you make art if you were thinking so much about what people would think of your thing years from now. I think wondering if your work is good, rather than if it is itself, can be a roundabout way of wondering if you are good—worthy of basic love—and that can lead to self-hatred, which poisons the creative process and every other part of life. Now I believe that, if thinking about legacy is ever useful, it’s as the idea of leaving other people a blueprint for living truthfully. Showing people another way to exist, rather than proving something about yourself.”
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter if it was my art or my personality, things always worked out for the better when I didn’t try to create for an audience that wasn’t myself.
There are merits in striving to have a less emotional personality, but I’m learning that it’s not a goal of mine to be less emotional. It’s about being able to manage my reactions better. Emotions should never be suppressed. We should all feel things as they are and acknowledge that they exist. Whether or not we let them consume us is a different goal.
Like a double edged sword, the traits I hate about myself are also the ones that I love the most. Things like being curious (nosy), inquisitive (overthinking), persistent (pushy), honest (abrasive.) When I started to stop diminishing myself and just accept who I was, it became easier and easier to not feel shaken up by external factors.
When you’re firm in what you know and how you love yourself, your reactions move from a place of ego and insecurity towards a place of merely appreciating things as they are. Things that are simply out of your control. And it will reflect through your work.