Sometimes I miss the Donna I knew in college, the young woman who started her first year at Wake Forest University by joining an honor’s class filled with seniors. It was a writer’s symposium, and we were asked to deliver three key presentations upon which our grade would be based.
Here’s the twist – everybody would be given a week prior to the presentation to review and critique the work of their classmates. And, before I even got started, the professor suggested I not take the class until I was a junior. I laughed in that confident way I used to have and chose to take the class anyway.
After my first paper was brutally critiqued, I ceased laughing. Instead, I stepped outside of the classroom, slid down the wall, and cried like a baby who was wet, unfed, and tired. I mean, I sobbed so hard my diaphragm got a workout.
After class, the professor told me that my grade for the presentation was a ” D”, and that I should reconsider being an English major. I was devastated but undeterred. Plus, I hated having to fill out the paper-work to change a class.
Therefore, out of an odd combination of determination and laziness, I fought back. I refused to drop the class, and instead reversed his opinion with my next presentation on the DNA strand. I prepared like a fiend, and pulled on my presentation abilities. I made DNA sing, which is no small feat.
I concluded the semester with a “B” average and a first raised in victory. I was Donna, unplugged.
Then I allowed some less than qualified editors to edit my life . . .
Somewhere along the way, I learned that I should ask others what they think of what I’m doing, or what I’m wearing, or what I’m saying.
Thanks to a manager who didn’t like my ability to influence the department head, I learned that laughing too much at work was unprofessional.
Thanks to some professional mothers who had the inside track on how to raise a perfect child, I learned that plopping my children in front of “Emergency 9-1-1” with a bag of Cheetos was going to send them straight to juvie.
And thanks to people who bully with their healthy ways, I learned that being ten pounds overweight meant I was more of a sloth than a woman.
I listened, I read, I edited my story, and minimized the role of my character.
I would see glimpses of her now and then . . .
I reintroduced myself as my story’s protagonist the day that I informed another perfect mom that my kids were doing just fine, and I appreciated her style but she needed to keep it in a special place and away from me.
And the time I stood up to a manager who liked to bully women in the workplace by intimidating them and then saving them.
Or the day I hit “submit” on a blog for Huffington Post about my dead people experiences. I girded my writing loins, and read the comments which declared me possessed and a spawn of Satan. But I survived, and I played myself with courage.
Are You Playing Yourself Well?
I think we all have a tendency to let others edit our personal stories and, in the process, diminish the power of our character.
I am feisty, creative, and a little counter-dependent. I take risks in my work, and I stand up for things when others are quiet. I like to laugh, and I see people who others don’t (or won’t admit to).
I eat too much junk food and am wearing through the inner-thigh section of all of my jeans because of it. I spend way too much money on Starbucks and drive a used BMW with orthopedic seat cushions.
But I’ve discovered that I’d rather be Donna, unplugged, than a confused character created by the opinions of so many editors.
If you have changed your story to accommodate the opinions of others, try to find that magic again.
Because I’m pretty sure you’re not here to perform as your understudy.
You’re here to play the lead.