Who Are You and What Do You Want?
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
I am addicted to the idea of people whose personas are larger than life. People like Bruce Springsteen, who makes characterizations of the “simple man” huge. People like Picasso, who seem to float through existence trailing their personalities behind them.
I’ve always felt it would be good to be like that. To get to be like that. To have people asking you to be like that.
But is that really what I want? To become larger than life, or have to become it? When I think about it, I can imagine that this would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me.
I became a huge celebrity once, in high school. I wrote a poem that was so good it actually impressed everyone…the whole school: teachers, popular students, parents. Being famous for that poem was pleasant in some ways, but it was also annoying and confusing.
I am not larger than life. Anyone that has ever lived with me can attest to my very real flaws and shortcomings. And yet, when I experience things that further my larger-than-life persona, I am happy.
But if I ever succeeded, if people were posting Adam Cole's picture instead of Kurt Vonnegut's, then I really would be pretending to be larger than life. I think about the Vonnegut quote above, and I ask myself, “If I pretend to be this larger than life character, can I really resist the temptation to start believing it? Will I start focusing on protecting my new status instead of doing the work that got me there?”
Or is the opposite true? “Am I actually that larger-than-life person, and I’m hiding from it? Am I avoiding the responsibility of being the person I have the power to become?”
I have some students with the potential to go very far in this "larger-than-life" business. I strive to show them the difference between presentation and reality, so that when they "become," they don't lose touch with who they "are." I am not so sure I always strike the balance myself.
What about you? Do you have to pretend in order to succeed? If you do, what has your experience been?