Most of us moan and groan about our parents at some point in our lives. But for all intents and purposes, I was pretty lucky. I had parents who sat back and let me become whatever it was a dreamed of becoming. I’m sure they secretly worried that I’d die penniless and alone, but still, they catered to my wishes for spiral notebooks and Lisa Frank pencil toppers.
They probably took a lot of crap for it, too.
In my early years, I was routinely made to rewrite formal essays for embellishing. Okay, Ms. Floral Dress, you caught me, my golden retriever DOESN’T have mind-reading powers, and no, I didn’t have a dream that there was the ghost of a little girl telling me where she’d been buried under my pool, and no I didn’t find her locket gleaming at the bottom of the water the next morning.
I was friends with another little girl who liked to write stories, and in response her father taped a list of the New York Times Bestsellers over her bed and he told her that if she couldn’t be the real deal, she’d better find something more worthwhile to aspire towards. He also said this to me. I promptly disregarded it. Actually, I tended to disregard any tidbits of reality I didn’t like. I still do this often.
I was the kid that never fit in. I was ridiculed for my crazy hair and my habit of staring off into space. It was strange that I was reading Sidney Sheldon in the sixth grade. In the fifth grade, my parents were called in for a meeting because the quiz stated “In your own words, explain (whatever it was)” and I responded in the form of a poem. I would walk around for days and days in mourning when I’d killed off a character that only I knew existed, because I had written her. I hoarded notebooks and showed them to no one. I glued comic strips to my walls.
And most of the time, my parents, both traditional and reserved, were as confused by my behavior as anyone else. I was their only child, their only shot at molding a human being that would one day go out into the world and leave some sort of mark. They could have begged me to be a doctor or a candlestick maker. They could have demanded that I declare a business major if they were to help me with college. Instead, they never told me I had to be something else. They never said that if I couldn’t be the “real deal,” I’d better find a more worthwhile aspiration. Only as an adult can I look back and truly appreciate what a bang-up job they did of accepting me. But even with that support, I worried for myself. I worried that I wouldn’t be the “real deal,” and I worried that my dream wasn’t to BE the “real deal.” I didn’t care about being a bestseller. I just wanted to tell stories. I didn’t understand why I had such trouble fitting in. I thought I was some kind of mistake.
But like a rolling stone, I kept doing what I felt compelled to do.
My true moment of validation came when I was 25. Shortly after my publisher acquired my trilogy, we all went out to lunch. Here were these professional people with fancy city jobs and snazzy hair, talking about my characters and asking me questions. I’d like you to take a moment to appreciate how weird that was. All the silly imaginings I’d had since I was a child were now the topic of a business lunch. It was kind of the best day ever.
It shouldn’t have taken me that long to feel validated. I shouldn’t have felt like a mistake. And it shouldn’t take a book deal or snazzy hair to make you feel validated, either. At the end of your life, do you want to look back and say that you never worried your teachers, that you always behaved, that you fit in and everything was like a 50s sitcom?
Maybe you’re weird, and maybe you’re not. Whatever you are, just embrace it. Be you. Be unapologetically you. If people look at you funny, you stand on a chair and proclaim that you’re lord of the mud people. If someone tells you that you aren’t good enough, tell them you have as many hours in the day that Shakespeare and Einstein and Dr. Condom had. And know that your life is yours to make. Someday, maybe years from now and maybe tomorrow, people will be in AWE of you. They’ll see an octagon in a room of squares. So unzip that silly square costume. You don’t need to aspire to be the “real deal.” You already are.