Fuck off. What the actual fuck does that mean? Whenever I was confronted with a nerve-wracking situation, someone would offer me the sage advice “just be yourself”.
The first day of school? Just be yourself. Going on a date? Just be yourself. Going to an interview? Just be yourself. Hmm, interesting but have you ever considered this: WHO AM I? How can I be myself if I have no idea what that means?
This was always so confusing to me because I’ve been going through an identity crisis since I was 11. I’m not kidding, I was a surprisingly pensive kid, and was always called “weird”, not bad…just weird. I suppose most people who don’t identify as 100% straight reading this can understand this point. Before I was called gay, or a faggot, I was called “different”. I never understood why I was different; I just wanted to be like everyone else.
As you grow older you unlearn yourself. Take a look at kids. Look at Mandy over there, she’s climbed the tallest branch of a tree in the park and has commandeered that ship as her own, she’s shouting orders from atop the Crows nest of the S.S Mandolin. Mandy is in charge of her destiny, she doesn’t give a spider in the sandbox about people looking at her, thinking she’s weird or different. She is positively herself all the time because here’s a dirty little secret, she hasn’t learned that she is different.
What would happen if we taught kids that being different was okay? Maybe even something to be sought after. I think young adults wouldn’t have to endure quite so much anxiety and confusion and pain in their lives if this was the case. And maybe kids would be able to create without an intense fear of rejection gripping them, forming a generation of completely beautiful and unapologetic artists and intellectuals who look at the world with an entirely different perspective.
I’ve been thinking a lot about art lately. I mean…I always do but in particular Pablo Picasso. I have a tendency to get obsessed with words, or quotes. I break them apart, rearrange them, put them back together, and repeat the process until I come across what I believe to be the original intent of the creator, or something useful that I can carry with me. So when Pablo Picasso said: “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” I was confused. If you take a look at Picasso’s early work he could paint like any of the old masters. Why wouldn’t he continue along the path of the greats? Then I asked myself: why would he want to paint like Raphael when he could paint like Picasso?
To me, Picasso is a grand example of how to unlearn society. He learned the rules. He studied structure, shape, dimension, shade, and movement, everything that makes a traditional artist perfect in a technical sense. And then he began to break those rules. He started to use shapes more as a suggestion than as a structure. He created himself on the canvas rather than a depiction of reality.
Why is different so feared? Is it because we are afraid of rejection or even of being alone? So instead we try and jam our triangle peg into societies round one and end up warped, with the things that once made us different softened and squished into a sort-of-circle that helps us to fit in, but hinders and hides our identities…though never getting rid of them completely. I think it’s this dissension that creates huge amounts of discomfort for people, namely teenagers and young adults who are trying to find their way.
I am trying to revert back to what I was like being a child. As a kid I was fearless, I can remember performing in various plays and musicals running up on stage to check the microphone JUST so I could make sure people would hear me. Fast forward a decade and I’m having a panic attack and vomiting before a presentation in my Business Ethics class. So yeah, I’m trying to learn from 10 years old me on how to be fearless.
The only thing that changed was a learned behavior. For instance, in 7th-grade gym class, we had to sit on the pavement and wait for instruction from our teacher. I sat with both my knees to the left with one leg on top of the other; very Barbie goes to the beach. One day, a girl who we’ll call Tina turned to me with a dead expression, and asked: “Why do you sit like a girl?” At first, it was difficult to tell that she was talking to me because one of her eyes was addressing me, and the other one was having a staring contest with the Twinkie that she just unwrapped. Way to be the pinnacle of health in gym class Tina.
Now what I should have said was “BECAUSE IT’S COMFORTABLE TINA, I SIT LIKE THIS BECAUSE IT IS COMFORTABLE.” But, this was the time when I started to “learn” of my differences, namely because people started to point them out. So instead, I was mortified. I had no idea I was sitting like a girl. How long had I been doing this? How many people noticed that I sat “like a girl”? So many questions flashed in my mind that the only response I could muster sounded closer to the last few breaths of someone choking on a hoagie. Spluttering and then quiet.
This went on for longer than I care to admit. And as a result, I quickly learned how to have anxiety. This was not the sole cause of the anxiety I experienced, but a HUGE portion of it is directly related to a low sense of self-worth. This is when I started to hear more and more: “just be yourself…people will love you.” But that begged the question, how will people love me for being myself when I hate myself?
I had an unhealthy association with personality and what it was, which probably compounded on how terrified of “being myself” I became. For instance, whenever someone was described as having a “big personality”, they were always the life of the party, attention seekers with a longing for a crowd to see what antics they had prepared. Then conversely, someone who had “no” personality or “lacked” personality, were the quiet kids, the ones who were a bit odd and different from the majority. To me, in order for your personality to have worth, you had to be funny.
I was found somewhere between those two polarities. I was incredibly shy in middle school and the early parts of high school. I didn’t talk much, so I spent a large chunk of my time observing others, namely the “big personalities”. Oh, how I envied the big personalities, always drawing in crowds, always so charming and witty and infectious. I felt like a 6’4” waste of space because I didn’t think I was capable doing anything like that…If ten-year-old Wolfe hopped in a DeLoreon to 2010 he would have slapped my shit. He was capable of being an infectious presence for an audience so why couldn’t I now? Well, I had (and have) to unlearn a lot of years of anxiety and fear.
Regardless of what I was capable of then, and am learning how to be capable of now, I think it is more important to acknowledge the validity of your personality. Sure, by the time I’m 30 I want to give a TED talk, so I have a long road ahead of me if that is the goal because a crowd of any more than six people and flop sweat is guaranteed. But, regardless I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as a “big personality”, and I am completely okay with that.
I was chatting with my heterosexual life partner Anya, and we both described each other as infectious. We are ambiverts, meaning that sometimes we are energized and invigorated by going out and being extroverted, but other times we need to recharge by staying in and being introverted. But when we do go out, we are able to draw people in. Maybe not a huge crowd clinging onto every word that we say; but a few people at a time that are genuinely intrigued by our presence rather than waiting for us to be their source of entertainment.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as “the life of the party”, you still have just as much worth and just as much personality as that kid who does. Funny does not equal worth. Popularity certainly does not equal worth. Are you kind? Are you compassionate? Are you creative? Are you weird? Whatever it is that makes you, you, that’s your greatest asset. Don’t try to mimic another person’s personality because it will be disingenuous, and eventually you may even lose sight of what it means to truly be you. It may be difficult to figure out just what it means to “be yourself”, but whatever it is, don’t be ashamed of it; don’t ask why aren’t you like this person or that. You’re you, and there’s a reason you are here, everyone has worth, and everyone has big personality.
Much love & many adventures,