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Building Character, not a Character.


Rumi, a poet, wrote, “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there”. Now, I won't pretend to be a “poet analyst”, if you will. Because truthfully, I don’t love poetry. That doesn't mean I don’t appreciate it, but rather I myself don’t enjoy writing it, and sometimes get bored reading it.

Poetry is worth a million words, yet is only written in a few. Poetry in a general sense has never captured me enough in the past to really look at meaning. But as life has shown me in multiple ways this summer, I really am a “lifelong learner”. As cookie cutter as that sounds, it is true. We can change our minds- and I think we are supposed to do that.

Oftentimes I don’t learn from reading a book or listening to a self help podcast. I learn from living. Today, I woke up, brushed my teeth, ate breakfast, and went to work. The same thing as I did yesterday and the day before. Except today was different, and “my next opportunity walked through the door” (that quote is from just another wisdom filled human I talked to, just the other day). One moment she asked for a size 38, the next she was telling me Rumi's poem. She was speaking in business terms, but in my head, I was not.

She was a writer, if you couldn’t tell. But she was also a realtor, and a regular old person living her life. You don’t have to be a journalist for the New York Times to be a writer. You don’t have to dance with Paris Opera Ballet to be a dancer. You don’t have to eat one carrot stick a day to have an eating disorder. And last but not least, you don't have to be the president in order to make a lasting impact on the people around you.

When I was around 15 years old, I was asked by my best friend at the time, “Would you rather be exceptional at one thing or average at multiple things?”. My 15 year old self didn’t blink once before my response. I wanted to be the best. The best at this, and the best at that. Being the best earned me a title. If I wasn’t the best, then I wasn’t a dancer, I wasn’t a writer, and I wasn’t anything else for that matter. But, being the best comes at a cost. This cost being yourself.

So, now I disagree with my 15 year old self. I told this writer/realtor/regular old person about how I loved to write, but avoided calling myself a writer. She stopped me in my tracks though. Turns out, you don’t have to earn your title to be who you want to be. Being the “best” does not always yield the “best” results. In fact, sometimes it's the exact opposite. If I am just average at a million different things, at least I experienced the multitude of aspects life has.

I recently read a book by Jeanette Mcurdy called I am Glad my Mom Died, when Mucurdy says, “The years that you’re supposed to spend building character, I was spending building characters”, and that is exactly what I did at the prime age of 15. I built the character that best represented who I felt I needed to be. One thing I’ve learned is that two things CAN coexist. I loved it, but I also knew it brought me a purpose, an identity, and filled my empty cup. But, maybe it wasn’t my cup, maybe it was everyone else's.

This writer/realtor/regular old person didn’t just stop there. No wonder she is a writer, I thought, as if she was speaking with fire coming out of her mouth. My life took a quick halt recently, and sometimes it feels like my next move is a make or break kind of decision. With one side of her mind still on the shoes she was trying on and the other talking to me, she said something along the lines of, “Sometimes you need to pause, wait, and when you feel ‘it’ in your chest…follow that”. And, that is where the field is. I know what “it” is, and knowing that, I am not sure I need anything else. She described it as, “allowing the clouds to catch her right before she fell”, and that image offers nothing but a sigh of relief.

So what am I? I am a dancer/writer/regular old person, too. And that is enough for now, because life is not black and white. And if it were, Mcurdy would turn her “slip into a slide”, and so would I. But, that is not recovery. I move forward, but also back. Because moving back (in a literal and figurative sense), is what really builds character (not a character).

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