I recently read a short story for my AP Literature and Composition class and, long story short (no pun intended), I have never felt so understood in my life. Who knew that a piece of literature written in 1905 could be #RELATABLE? And that got me thinking: If this story is in a high school curriculum 112 years later, then I’m not the only one who can relate.
The story is “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather. Here’s the lowdown: Paul works as an usher at a theater after school. Unlike his classmates, he has a passion for the theater and an appreciation for art and creativity. The world of the arts offers him something he can’t find at home or in school: a sense of belonging.
I'd like to relate a few excerpts to my own life because they're relevant to anyone who has felt like a square peg in a round world. We tend to think we're alone in feeling this way, but that's never the case. I hope that you'll be inspired to be undeniably YOU by the end of this.
“Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing. […] He approached it to-night with the nerveless sense of defeat, the hopeless feeling of sinking back forever into ugliness and commonness that he always had when he came home. The moment he turned into Cordelia Street he felt the waters close above his head. After each of these orgies of living, he experienced all the physical depression which follows a debauch; the loathing of respectable beds, of common food, of a house penetrated by kitchen odors; a shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of every-day existence; a morbid desire for cool things and soft lights and fresh flowers.”
Being a young adult is a constant state of contradiction. A bittersweet existence. You have everything to be thankful for – yet – somehow, you feel more burdened than you do privileged. You have a bed to sleep on and food on your plate, but young eyes always see the bitter “invisible ink” written all over sweet commodities. A respectable bed, no matter how comfy it is, is a place of inescapable introspection. A family meal, no matter how delicious, is just part of a routine existence for those who have tasted the flavors of other places. I suppose it’s both a burden and privilege to know people worth knowing in places worth going.
“He was now entirely rid of his nervous misgivings, of his forced aggressiveness, of the imperative desire to show himself different from his surroundings. He felt now that his surroundings explained him. Nobody questioned the purple; he had only to wear it passively. He had only to glance down at his attire to reassure himself that here it would be impossible for anyone to humiliate him.”
There’s a reason so many people are drawn to mountain bike culture. The community is so inclusive and diverse. Whenever I’m in it, I forget about my worries, my insecurities – everything. Like Paul, I have a desire to stand out from the crowd, but it’s hard to do this without feeling self-conscious in a place dominated by small-town mentalities.
But the difference between me and Paul is the fact that I don’t change myself according to where I am and who I’m with. I didn’t conform when I didn’t fit in in school. I didn’t grow my hair back out after receiving rude looks and comments from close-minded strangers. Little do they know, the things they're making fun of have opened so many doors for me. I’ve found that the more I embrace my individuality, the more opportunities I'm presented with. I have chosen to define myself by my character and personality, which has proven to be a darn good insurance policy for my identity.
My power is knowing that I still have something to offer when Darth Veda the bike racer isn’t on fire. I can still be proud of myself even if the thing I happen to do the most is no longer the thing I’m the best at. I can be:
- a full-time consumer of food
- a part-time bike rider
- an occasional unicyclist
- an entrepreneur
- a writer
- a positive role model
- a friend
- a chocolate connoisseur
- a humor enthusiast
- the reigning ping pong champion of the Gerasimek household
Sure, it’s not the easiest transition to go from 3x national champion to losing fifteen pounds of muscle mass, but I plan on getting back to that level in the near future.
Paul’s story ends tragically because he didn’t have the confidence to be himself in environments that made him stand out. Instead, he spent all of his energy being a chameleon to avoid attention. If he had stuck to one color, he might’ve inspired another person to do the same and found the camaraderie he was looking for all along. We’re afraid that confidence will draw attention to our insecurities, but the truth is: It actually highlights our assets. That’s why confident people appear to have no insecurities. So instead of being a chameleon, be a UNICORN. Because unicorns have been themselves since the beginning of time and everyone thinks they’re awesome. That’s why they’re always on inspirational posters.
When I return to the world on the other side of my phone screen, I’ll have my work cut out for me. But maybe that’s life’s way of giving me a clean slate to set new limits when I’m ready to take on that challenge. For now, I need to learn how find inner peace when I’m not in constant pursuit of something huge. I need to learn how to be okay with the fact that some of my competitors went from beginner to Europe in two seasons, living out a dream I’ve had for five years. I need to learn how to be happy for them, not jealous, because they still earned it. I can rest easy knowing that I did absolutely everything I could to be where they are right now, so it’s clearly not meant to be. At least, not right now.
Pursue your passion even if no one supports or understands it. Don’t be a chameleon. Stick to one color & inspire another.