For as long as I can remember, I’ve been happy.
Like, REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY happy.
Apparently, the rest of the world thinks so, too.
From Xanga to Facebook, anonymous notes to candid family encouragement, what is perceived to be my top contribution to society is my unwavering optimism.
According to StrengthsQuest, “Positivity” is my top strength as a human being. I am exceedingly positive and optimistic in every single high and low of my life - and absolutely nothing can bring me down!!!!!!!!!
It is exhausting.
It is also a lie.
The origin of my “optimism” is rather easy to identify. When I was 12, my mother was told she had three years to live. While my dad and mom traveled across the country to find a cure, I stayed to pick up the pieces of my shattered family. I was a young, broken girl who had three younger brothers looking to her for assurance, for answers, for explanations…
I had none of these things.
So I chose to be optimistic.
& it has spiraled. For years, as a solution to every problem, I have told people to “chin up!” I have promised all will be okay. I have negated flaws and inconsistencies to prove that any and every situation is truly excellent. I have suppressed grief, anxiety, and deeply rooted fear to put a miracle rainbow band-aid on everything I couldn’t handle in my life or others’.
Though it has served me well, it’s just not a sustainable way to live.
I have spent the past year of my life facing wave after wave of death, heartbreak, tragedy and hopelessness. Scarring moments litter my life story where my innocent, childish naivety once thrived. I have never felt deeper pain, nor experienced such penetrating bouts of loneliness as I have since coming to Northwestern.
Throughout, I entered a viscous cycle of self-flagellation. Every ounce of pain I felt was exacerbated by my Optimist Identity screeching, “Stop it! You are supposed to be the happy girl! What is wrong with you? GET. UP. I SAID GET UP.” I was a walking contradiction, a girl known and praised for her smile, but who experienced a world crashing down behind it.
Keeping up with this all-encompassing identity is one of the most oppressive forces in my life. I am so sick and tired of ruining myself and twisting my heart to accept a world that I created… a world which doesn’t exist.
I am done with my optimist identity. I am done warping reality to serve my benefits and sustain my ego. I am done holding responsibility to myself for bringing an irrational ideal to this world and calling it true. I am done with refusing myself the grace to feel the entire spectrum of human emotion.
There is a way to feel deep and enduring joy that is utterly incompatible with the white-washing optimism I have exhausted myself trying to maintain.
There is beauty in tragedy. There is hope in a broken home. There is faith in a broken heart. I can weep, grieve deeply, and hold closely the realities that construct our life narratives. I no longer need to negate the truth of loss and pain; I can embrace these things as well as the gorgeous reconstruction and redemptive work that follows.
It has taken me waaay too long to even begin accepting that I do not have to be the eternal optimist.
Guys, I am not even twenty yet. I am still creating and rewriting who I am and trying to understand if either are even possible.
Losing my optimist identity and simply letting myself be an instrument of Christ is perhaps the most liberating and terrifying freedom I have ever experienced.
It is impossible to be fully optimistic and fully alive.
At least for me.
We all write our own stories, no?
Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.