I will never be Miss Congeniality, homecoming queen or the girl with 200 likes on her profile picture. I have accepted that. But acceptance is a very different animal than complacency. And I have never been one to be complacent.
Back in the days of teal and black, falcons and prom, I wanted to be that girl—that “it” girl. I would sit awkwardly as friends, peripheral and close, would blurt out a word or two and burst out with laughter.
I wanted in. I wanted to know what was so hilarious about this inside joke or that. I wanted to have been there. I had FOMO before FOMO became a thing.
But once I mostly outgrew this “need to know” phase, I started to think that perhaps I was in on a little inside joke of my own. While some of my peers would goof off and say how stupid school was or how our high school was like a jail, I would work that much harder. I would smile and know that in a few years my non-complacency would pay off. I knew that some of these people were buying themselves a one-way ticket to our local community college, and I had a shot at escaping what was so “stupid.”
These days, though, I think an entirely different group was in on one of life’s most important inside jokes. And well, my own had some ugly caveats. Competitive, hungry for greatness and eager to learn, I was oblivious to the liberating knowledge that was already their own.
You see, while I poured my heart and soul and emotion into my work, I left no room for self-exploration or questioning what teachers and textbooks told me.
As I obsessed over each word, number and detail, others reserved meticulousness for only the most important of occasions.
The joke goes something like this: There once was this girl who spent her entire life gathering knowledge about the world that she would never take her time to know. What’s more, this girl wasted any extra energy she did have towards wanting to fit in, when she was one of the lucky ones born to stand out. It took 22 years for her to see that the smart she that she was had been played a fool. Not a knee-slapper, I know. Sorry to disappoint.
But here’s the kicker. When you’re born to stand out, in whatever weird, subtle or small way that might be, you must accept all that you are and all that you are not. You must, that is, if happiness is what you seek.
Our culture is pretty terrible about fostering this idea, though. For me, I guess it all began with line leaders. Since kindergarten, our malleable minds are marinated in the idea that we must be leaders, not followers. The highest of pedestals are reserved for captains, class presidents and star athletes. As we grow older, the rules change, but we play the same game. Money, respect and doing interesting things are the new moves.
But the joke is on us. Because it’s just a game. Those of us who are so busy chasing dreams that we have lost sight of who we are and what we care about in our heart of hearts. Those of us who fail to see that our lives are just as much a human construct as the money that makes our world go round.
I used to be one of those who bought the bulls--- that we must pour our hearts into our work or else come up short. I used to be one of those who bought the logic that we must sacrifice most moments of the present for the promise of future gain.
I say all this as someone so-long-snookered.
We are taught to harbor outrageous ambition and pursue it. We are encouraged to bleed, to sweat and to cry for success’s sake. Sweat I can do. But I will bleed and cry no longer.
This life is far too beautiful, our days too numbered and our souls too curious to live this way. Even things that can’t be chased are phrased as such: “pursue happiness,” “search for love,” “strive to find inner peace.”
We are taught that breakdowns are OK, but only if transient and laden with new insight and direction. We frame every tribulation, every hiccup as part of our larger story. We are taught that we must accept ourselves, but always try to be better.
But when all is said, all is done, all is achieved, all is used, all is succeeded, the joke is on us.
As we chase these dreams of ours, we must accept our shared fate with more pauses without apology. We must never ever mistake acceptance for complacency.
Gracie Willert is a Trinity senior. Her biweekly column runs every other Monday.
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