I will admit that, at times, I’ve gotten by based somewhat on my reputation. I may have earned “good” grades in elementary school, middle school, and high school, but I can’t shake the feeling that my teachers assessed me based on who they knew me to be — er, who they thought me to be — rather than who I actually was.
This is also true in other aspects of my life. For instance, I get away with plenty of things other people don’t normally get away with. Sometimes, an extremely mean or insulting sentence escapes my lips and my friends simply laugh it off. Other times, I act the way a good person wouldn’t usually act and people who are familiar with me look the other way because they consider me good (because I constantly remind them I’m a “good” person by telling them/writing about how I’m a “good” person). Whether this is because of my reputation, my above-average (8/10) appearance, or a reason I’m completely overlooking (my incredible modesty, perhaps?) I cannot say for sure. Though, these occurrences continually leave me wondering: Do I deserve this?
Do I deserve to be considered a “nice guy”? Do I deserve forgiveness when I make a mistake simply because I feel/feign remorse? Do I deserve to be judged based on who people assume I am? Do I deserve a pass on anything?
I ponder this because, at times, it feels as if I’m not even trying anymore. I wouldn’t say I’ve become a robot, but I feel like I’ve checked out mentally and emotionally — a feeling I experience much too often. So, maybe it’s time I wake up and start thinking again. And I think maybe it’s time I shift out of AUTOPILOT.
We live in a time period (and a country, for most of my readers) in which we feel entitled to various things. While I do believe we are all entitled to a number of basic human rights, I’ll argue that we are NOT entitled to special treatment just because we view ourselves in a certain light. I’ll contend that we are undeserving of this special treatment whether our opinions of ourselves are heavily influenced by those of others or simply because we’re self-righteous douchebags.
But maybe I’m being too harsh; we all deserve some slack. Everybody wants to excel in at least one thing and receive the credit they believe they are due. At some point when I was younger (probably middle school but possibly earlier), somebody somewhere planted the seed in my head that I was a talented writer. Of course, some teachers/parents have a gift when it comes to identifying talent, but how well can a 7th grader really write?
My best guess of how events transpired between then and now is the following: Several reputable teachers threw around the idea that I was “good at writing” and people — myself included — began to believe it. Without even knowing what “good” writing was, my parents, my friends, my classmates, and other teachers recognized this notion as the truth and moved on. I followed suit.
Similar to the concept of Charles Horton Cooley’s “looking-glass self,” it’s much easier to just accept the things we don’t fully understand. By acknowledging these hard-to-grasp ideas as facts, we can avoid the mountain of confusion and inevitable headache of attempting to figure them out. Once we get past the doubt sprouted by our lack of understanding, living this way makes it a whole lot simpler when forming our beliefs. Like a shortcut, I guess. (Note: I use the terms “easier” and “simpler.” Not “better.”)
So, do I actually believe I’m a “great writer”? I mean, I’ve been told it enough times to assume it’s true. But when I write something — an article, a story, a song, a tweet, or whatever it may be — and I’m not 100% proud of it or confident in it, how should I react if other people recognize it as some of my best work? I understand that each piece means something different to everyone, but I can’t help but question whether or not people are truly being honest. I also don’t know how to identify “good writing.” (The bad is a hell of a lot easier to pick out.)
Most people who know me and interact with me on even a semi-frequent basis judge me based on who they believe me to be — based on the “Ryan” they’ve constructed in their heads. My biggest question is: Do these people actually know me better than I know myself? Who am I really?
Cooley would say, to you, I am whoever you think I am; but to me, I am whoever I think you think I am.
I believe I am the aggregate of my words and actions. I am anything that comes out of my mouth and everything that goes into it. (So, today I am a bunch of dumb jokes and two cheeseburgers.) I am the sum of my experiences — the positives like wings and negatives like anchors. The weight of my past and boundlessness of my future pull with equal but opposite force, keeping me grounded for the time being. While one pulls me up and away from everything I think I know, the other serves as a reminder of what I can be sure about, scars and all.
What others see is the “Ryan” caught in the midst of this tug-of-war. I write, sure. But that doesn’t mean I should be classified as a “writer.” I’m more.*
*I didn’t exactly mean for this to rhyme, but it does. I guess I’m a writer then?