Four+ days in a cabin with 10 adults and 7 children has taught me many things: don’t put your cup of water down without marking it as yours; be cautious of trying to use the bathroom during a game of hide-and-seek; and if you play your cards right, you can avoid doing any dishes without anyone realizing.
But mostly I’ve learned something about personalities.
My four siblings and I discussed our lives over an unprecedented lunch by ourselves (read 0 of our 7 children were present…whhhhaat?). We talked about growing up and the ramifications of our parents gradually throwing assorted rules and limitations overboard (to keep their sanity afloat, I assume). I insisted on singing along to “Wagon Wheel”, on my short list of acceptable country songs. (I know. I clearly don’t belong in the south.) We wondered collectively, for the love of squirrels, why our restaurant table needed a giant tv screen, and my brother coached me on his theology of tipping.
We also talked about our differences. Apparently we differ in how we communicate, where we draw our moral lines, how we raise our children, and how we choose to caffeinate. Between us, we have hundreds of variations in perspective, process, and personality.
Personality differences sound so beautiful in theory, because on paper our combined uniqueness is supposed to add color and dimension to the world around us. You’ve heard what they say: We’re better together; we need each other; there’s beauty in diversity!
Pullllease. Try telling me all that rainbow, sunshine mumbo jumbo after throwing a bunch of different personalities into a cabin for a few days and shaking them up.
The obnoxiously loud kid up at the crack of dawn is clearly no good for his sleep-loving mom or the poor guy on the couch by the kitchen. The one whose idea of adventure is an obscure coffee shop or thrift store mixes like oil and water with the other who’d rather be kayaking. The worriers and people pleasers clash with the self-confident and matter-of-fact. Oh it was a wonderful vacation…but I’m just saying…our uniqueness didn’t always look a whole lot like a painting by Picasso.
And I re-realized this week (no, I’m not stuttering…I just relearn things a lot), that I’m constantly wanting to photoshop my personality. Maybe nip and tuck my random anxieties or give my emotions the equivalent of a nose-job. At least I’d prefer to soften the edges of my personality so I could blend in with the person nearest me and be really liked by everyone 24/7.
But my personality isn’t the kind that hides my emotions well, so one fateful evening smack in the middle of the chaos of bedtime, I leaked a little personality all over the family dinner table.
My dad had brought an ample supply of old family pictures to peruse together while we reminisced about the memories they evoked. He began sorting pictures in preparation, and the family members who didn’t have to put kids to bed yet were sitting around the table laughing over a few loose photos.
I wanted to be totally cool with that arrangement. I wanted to be Miss Go-with-the-flow. I wanted to not care at all that they seemed to be starting without me. Pff…I wanted to act like I totally didn’t mind if I was missing the beginning of an epic, monumental, family
activity enterprise that was three years in the making. I wanted to not be the person who used dramatic words like “monumental” and “enterprise” to describe a simple family moment.
But I am that person.
So I flipped out a little on everyone and told them to wait because -hello!- some of us are trying to adult here and get the kids to bed. And my temperature was probably elevated and I was making zero eye contact with anyone and exited my melodramatic stage feeling just as angry at myself as at anyone else.
Why did I care so much? Why wasn’t I born with the emotional evenness of a manatee?
Why did I have a hyper-active sense of being left out? And why couldn’t I just keep it together so everyone at least thought that I was the amazing personality chameleon that conveniently matched the color and mood of those in the room at any given moment?
The problem is, I wanted to take all the parts of my personality that test well in public and divorce them from the equally “me” parts that are a little less presentable. Keep my outgoing nature and my love of new people; keep my creativity and my whimsy; keep the crazy big dreams and quirky fashion. But for God’s sake leave out my neediness and irrationality; my emotional highs and lows; my tendency to not always follow through on crazy dreams; and the insecurities that lie under the surface.
But it’s just not possible to itemize my personality and extract the unwanted. Each of us is a mixed bag, and the parts of us that seem easy to love wouldn’t exist without the parts of us that don’t seem quite normal or easy.
But there’s power and freedom in owning who we are…all of it.
It’s not that we don’t have room to grow, or places to improve. Accepting our personality isn’t the same as making excuses for poor choices or hurtful actions.
But if I hadn’t been trying so hard to stifle who I was, ironically my freak out moment over a pile of family pictures would have looked more like a calm dialogue than a panicked outburst. If I had accepted who I was, I would have given others the chance to accept me too…and to make room for my personality just as I make room for theirs.
Owning who we are and letting others see our true selves is so brave. It means others are going to be irritated by us sometimes. It means we’re not always going to mesh with everyone all the time. It means we won’t make everyone happy.
Well that’s a relief…because frankly, no one else makes me perfectly happy either. Seriously. If we’re all so different, obviously we’re going to get on each other’s nerves sometimes. We can spend our lives trying to photoshop ourselves so people like us more, but it’s exhausting and it’s really just not working. In fact, it’s making things worse.
We really do compliment each other but not always in the ways we’d think. Our differences stretch and grow and balance and teach us how love truly covers over it all. And our collaboration of personalities might be messy at times, but there’s a lot more beauty in our authenticity than in pretense.
So whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, emotional or level, irrational or practical, dreamer or planner, coffee lover or hater, assertive or compliant…you simply are you.
You DO add color to the canvas that is the world. And yes, your personality might also leak all over someone’s kitchen table one day in a not so pretty way. And that’s really OK.
So I dare us both to start living like it’s OK. (Because it sounds like a lot more fun.)