“In the history of human beings on this planet, there has never been another you and there never will be another you. You were born special with a unique light. When you try to be somebody else, it prevents your own life from shining brightly. Do not waste one day not fueling your heart and your soul and your light. And when you fuel that light, make sure to share it with other people” – Coach Valerie Kondo Field, “Miss Val,” UCLA multi-championship girls gymnastics coach for 29 years.
Who have you wanted to be? Specifically. Who have you seen who made you wish that you could just change out of your own skin and put one on just like theirs?
Of course, we know we can’t literally do that, but we do think that if we can just capture the “essence” of who this hero is, then life will be what we imagine it can be.
We’ve all been through the drill. The heroes may change over time, but in the end, we are left with the nagging feeling that we’re just incomplete, unfinished, unhappy, “less than.”
Then comes a turning point. That day when we begin to suspect that trying to be someone else just isn’t working. That we’re a fake, a fraud, and a stranger even to ourselves.
Trying to live in someone else’s skin is exhausting. And unfulfilling. And ultimately, it is destructive of the beautiful human being that we were born to be. And destructive of the time that we might have had just being our amazing and unrepeatable selves.
I can only speak with authority about myself, of course, but I took an inordinate amount of time trying to be someone else. Decades. I know how painful and frustrating and defeating that journey is. Even ridiculous sometimes.
It started with Elizabeth Taylor whose beauty was legion – and mine never would be, but I didn’t know that yet, though I did suspect…
It morphed into Beverly Sills when I wanted her magnificent voice and place on the opera stage – not knowing yet that I had neither her voice nor a willingness to sacrifice enough to be famous even if I did.
Perfect mothers were my next targets. If I could be like them, my children would turn out “perfect.” Thankfully, my children turned out “perfect” anyway, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t Carol or Ruth or Margie…Of course, they did have the perfect father, so…
Eventually, it was Frederick Buechner who was my goal. The perfect theologian and writer, I wanted to write like him. And – of course, I never did. Every writer has a unique voice. It took a very long time to find mine.
You know how it goes. Name your heroes. The ones you’d love to be.
That “unique light” that is us, the one that Coach Val mentioned, tries valiantly to come out from under the bushel basket. Bits and pieces emerge. Here and there. Trying and failing. Failing and trying again.
“When you try to be somebody else, it prevents your own light from shining brightly.” – Miss Val
It also prevents us from being deeply, richly happy. It keeps us restless and unhappy and grasping for an ideal that wasn’t meant for us. We become a fraud that comes across as fake. Do we really want to be a fraud? A fake? Not really.
Frankly, the façade can be exhausting to keep up. So what do we do then?
We develop a radical curiosity about who we are now and about the person we were to become.
Here are a few ways that we do that:
- Forget about whether people will like the “real” us or not. Go with the flow that comes easily in us. Give that longing a try. Go for it!
- Shoo away the voice in us that says we’re always going to be a fake. Or a failure. That says we’re not good enough. That we’re “less than.”
- Let in the light that’s just waiting to shine on the very things that we’re supposed to be doing. Pay attention to that little “aha!” that is a clue that we’re on to something. Something important that only we are meant to be or do.
- Take to heart what Gene Cernan (Apollo astronaut and last man to walk on the moon) said about curiosity: “Curiosity is the essence of human existence. ‘Who are we?’ ‘Where are we?’ ‘Where do we come from?’ ‘Where are we going?’ I don’t know. I don’t have any answers to those questions. I don’t know what’s over there around the corner. But I want to find out.” [Emphasis: mine]
Curiosity is the essence of human existence. I think I’ll go with that.
I want to find out, too!
I can attest to one fact: I am very different now from who I thought I wanted to be in my younger years. Different and very much at peace with who I am still becoming. And that has made all the difference to my elderhood! And that is pure grace.
The sooner you can find your unique light, the more years you’ll have to live as your deeply authentic, real, wonderful self. I highly recommend it!
The wonderful thing is that it’s never been just about you or about me. It’s been about how the “real me” can make a difference to every other “me” who desperately needs our unique and wondrous light.
And it feels so good to shine!!
*”There Will Never, Ever Be Another You”: the title of a well-known 1942 love song written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon and popularized by the greats, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. (For all of you who know what I’m talking about.)