I received an interesting comment over the weekend, and it led me to do a little bit of reflection. Someone commented that it was amazing how much of myself I put out there, and the way that I can comment on it, both the good things and the bad, or if not actually bad, at least potentially embarrassing.
I thought about this for a little bit, and I came to realize a few things about myself over the past couple dozen years or so. Somewhere between the ages of 15 and 22, I developed a sense of humor, and I think in many ways, that has made a tremendous difference in my life.
To put this into comparison, when I was a teenager, I felt very isolated and somewhat out of step with everyone else I knew. For the longest time I thought it was something related to my personality or my "just not belonging". Looking back at those years, I was painfully shy, very awkward, and absolutely resistant to anyone poking fun at me. Being the butt of a joke or in any way being ridiculed was the most painful thing for me, and I'd often lash out at people who did it. Needless to say, this invited similar treatment to continue. It stemmed from wanting so desperately for people to "like" me, and so I'd try so very hard for people to like me by any means necessary... hardly a recipe for success. Looking back, I realize that I was a bit of a miserable twerp... who would want to hang out with someone like that?
As I grew older and put myself into endeavors that required criticism and rejection, I learned to open up and let go in ways I was never really willing to before. Two primary expoeriences in this vein were working for a modeling agency and being a musician. Modeling was fun in a way, but talk about learning to deal with rejection! I remember well going out for well over a hundred calls and getting asked to participate in perhaps a dozen or so opportunities. To put that into perspective, that was less than a 12% success rate... but it also meant I got to do a dozen or so things I wouldn't have done had I not gone out there. Likewise, it helped to teach me that really little things like the placement of my eyes, or the skin tone that I had, or the part and texture of my hair, while practically identical to the other person, made a difference between getting a gig or not getting a gig. What can you do in those situations? I learned to laugh about it. I also learned to laugh at some of the calls I went out on, as well as some of the more interesting propositions for work I received (and believe me, in San Francisco, as a male model, you can get some rather intersting, and some might say frightening, propositions... and yes, there were quite a few I turned down for being a little too interesting (LOL!) ).
As a musician, I had to deal with a totally different kind of rejection. I wanted to play in modern rock or alternative bands, but I didn't have a voice that lent itself to that styling. I had a big, loud, scratchy rock voice that worked great with heavy metal. Now, don't get me wrong, I like metal just fine, but it was not my core influence, and singing about metal stuff just never felt entirely right with me. My first band has all sorts of songs that I wrote in deadly earnest that were, for all practical purposes, me wearing a mask and pretending to be someone else. I learned to deal with the rejection and the "inauthenticity", and slowly opened up to letting myself be more "me" as time went on. In effect, I learned to let those alternative influences come through and be part of my style. So what if they didn't exactly fit the music I was performing... we weren't a cover band, so why should it matter if my influences were more Sisters of Mercy than Guns N' Roses? With that, I decided that a smile would do more than a sneer, and a touch of humor would often disarm people and make them more comfortable.
Later on, when I started writing in newsgroups and such, I came to a realization early on that, when someone approached a topic with a little bit of humor, and sometimes with a bit of self-deprecating humor, it allows others to share with you and feel less pensive or guarded. It also allows you the ability to make comments about what you see on a slightly safer ground, since it's lots easier to comment about people's "motes" when you've adequately identified your own "beams" :).
So yes, when people see what I write and wonder how I can be so open and so willing to skewer myself in public, the answer is that it took a lot of time and realization that, in many ways, whether it be an accomplishment, a failing, a shortcoming or even a tragedy, sometimes the best way to deal with it and communicate about it is to find the humor in the situation, and put the humor up front. Honestly, the alternative is just way to painful to deal with much of the time, but somehow, finding the humor makes even the worst times feel a little more bearable :).