Guys. I’ve been on holidays for over three weeks now, and one thing that keeps popping up is my idea of Who I Am. Indulge me for a minute here: Take out a piece of paper or open a blank document on your phone or laptop. (Please make a cursory attempt to do this at least– it’s fun and enlightening, I swear). Answer the following prompts as honestly, as thoroughly, but as spontaneously as possible, and then meet me in the next paragraph for discussion. 🙂
Prompt #1: I am someone who ____________________ (or simply “I am ____________”)
Prompt #2: I’m not the sort of person who ______________________ (or simply “I’m not _______”)
List as many things as you can think of for each prompt. For example, coming into this vacation, some of my answers for myself would have been:
I am someone with high standards. I am someone who believes in doing the best job I possibly can. I am someone who is careful and conscientious. I am disciplined and in control.
I’m not the sort of person who enjoys crowds. I’m not one to let loose in public. I’m not a party-er.
That’s just the start. I’ve also discovered how widespread and totally arbitrary my “rules” about who I am (or should be) are. Many times, I’ve caught myself saying things like “I can’t eat dairy” (i.e. I am someone who is limited by what she can eat), “It’s late– I should really get to bed” (i.e. I’m not someone who deviates from her usual routines), or “I don’t think that’s worth it” (i.e. I don’t splurge on anything. Ever.)
Take a look at some of your own answers. Do they lay out very specific– and, let’s face it, highly unlikely– circumstances under which you’re finally allowed to have fun or to experience joy? Do they make you feel free or do they keep you trapped indeterminately? I don’t wear skirts or shorts. I’m not a ‘two piece swimsuit’ kind of woman. I’m not a swimsuit person, period! I don’t eat meat. I don’t eat carbs. I don’t eat fat. I swore off sugar. I don’t have sex during the day, on weeknights, or when the kids are at home. (Or at all.) I wear my hair up. I usually wear my hair down and part it on the right. I hate my job. I love my job! I gain weight just by thinking about food.
This idea really hit home for me when Marty and I went to Florida for a week. Originally, we had planned to winter in Ecuador, and when we discovered that you have to fly through Florida to get there, we thought, Well, we might as well spend a week in Orlando! Our travel plans changed dramatically soon after we had booked ourselves into a random resort in Orlando, leaving us far away from Ecuador but still scheduled to fly across the continent and to partake in things like Disney World and Universal Studios for a week. Eek!
En route to Orlando, I nervously peppered Marty with questions on the plane. Do you like rides? What if we hate it there? When’s the last time you’ve been on a roller coaster– what do you mean, ‘never’? I was extremely apprehensive about deviating from our usual vacation MO– camping or staying in a cheap hotel, hiking, logging extensive urban kilometers, discovering hidden gems in nature, etc. The thought of staying in a resort and going to theme parks for a week made me sick to my stomach, especially when I read the cost of Disney admission in our guidebook. Having fun ain’t cheap, sister.
Anyway. We arrived in Orlando and checked into our villa, with my carefully crafted idea of Who I Am rearing its head and ramming into our surroundings at every opportunity. Ugh– I don’t do ‘poolside’. What do you mean, there’s a cigarette butt station right outside the elevator? Gross. Mandatory mini golf fee, are you kidding me? It got worse when we purchased tickets to both the Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios, my hand quavering as I signed the exorbitant credit card slip. You mean I’m paying to spend time in a crowded theme park with a bunch of screaming kids? Am I crazy?! And I have to set my alarm for what time to get there? That’s, like, 4 whole hours before I normally get up… What on earth is happening to me?
Ever the strategists, Marty and I made a game plan the night before heading to the Magic Kingdom. Being the crusty, childless couple that we are, we decided to capitalize on Parade Time throughout the day, bee-lining for the far flung corners of the park while everybody else jammed Main Street to see the floats and to have their photos taken with Mickey Mouse. We don’t do parades. We don’t care about Mickey Mouse. We hate crowds. We are serious adults, for gods sake. It will be the perfect time to get photos without any people in them, for once.
At the park the next day, everything was going according to plan. At 1 pm, we saw the park attendants rope off a generous area for parade traffic and heard some spirited, G-rated music blaring from some speakers in the distance. Let’s head for Tomorrowland!, we mouthed to each other and enthusiastically pushed through crowds of people to make our way as far from Main Street as we possibly could. Marty decided to shoot some photos of Cinderella Castle en route, and that’s when we saw it:
Some poor soul dressed up as King Louie, the orangutan from The Jungle Book, was doing the twist with a young girl in the middle of Main Street. I made a snarky comment– likely ridiculing people who were shallow-minded enough to unwind and have fun at a theme park of all places– and then Marty dared me to go dance with the orangutan. The default programming flooded in immediately: I hate parades. I don’t like crowds. This song sucks. I would never dance with an orangutan period, let alone in public. What are we doing in Disney World, anyway? But Marty persisted. And I got curious.
This is what curiosity looks like for me– a mixture of sheepishness and disbelief about what might happen next.
Hmmm… Am I really ‘not a parade person’? What if I could enjoy a parade, just this once? Maybe I can enjoy this one, right now? Maybe dancing with a person in an orangutan costume isn’t so ridiculous after all? Maybe it will even be– gasp– fun?!
That’s how this happened:
Yup. I finished that song feeling completely exhilarated and didn’t even have to prompt Marty to join a congo line right afterward. (He was in there before I could even dare him!) Pure joy rushed through my veins for the rest of the parade– not to mention the rest of the day– and I felt like hugging that orangutan when everything was over and the floats were being steered back to the garage. ME! DANCING AT A THEME PARK! HAVING COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF FUN! LOOK AT ME, EVERYONE!
Needless to say, we happily crowded around the barricades for every subsequent parade that day, and we gasped in collective wonder that evening when the cast from ‘Frozen’ transformed Cinderella Castle into a bedazzled, snowy confection. (I even wept when Jiminy Cricket narrated the fireworks show. I was overcome with emotion about dreams coming true!)
A super cool “Sleeping Beauty” float at the next parade.
I don’t believe anyone who says this display wouldn’t bring them to tears…
Yes. The moral of this story is to examine “who you are” and “who you are not” in light of new opportunities and experiences that come your way. You never know– maybe, like me, you’ve got a parade-loving, monkey-dancing persona just itching to break free from your disciplined, super serious facade. (Or maybe not, in which case, at least you’ll have some incriminating photos taken of yourself for the future…)