The last line of our National Anthem that we sing at sports events and for patriotic occasions says, “…O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It’s true, we have so many freedoms that have been won by so many brave people who were willing to sacrifice lives to that end. But sometimes I wonder what I have done personally with my freedoms and have I, in fact, been brave in exercising them, particularly my freedom to be me.
In the book, Leading Out Loud, Terry Pearce says, “…’I called Gary’s house to thank him, and connected with an answering machine. The message was, “Hi, this is Gary, and this is not an answering machine, it is a questioning machine! The two questions are ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What do you want?’” then there was a pause and the message went on, “and if you think those are trivial questions, consider that 95 percent of the population goes through life and never answers either one!”
That hits too close to home with me. At some level, I know who I am – Donna Brown, divorced mother of two and grandmother of three; Christian, self-employed Realtor and small business owner who struggles financially, singer/musician, Toastmaster. But those are mostly roles I play.
And then comes the even bigger question for me – what do I want? Probably for most of us, the first ideas that pop into our minds are things: bigger house, bigger and/or newer car; more money, clothes, furniture, European vacation. But I think we all know that things don’t satisfy us for very long. Just about as soon as we buy that thing we’ve been dreaming of and saving for, a “new and improved” model hits the shelves and we have to start all over again. But if I could really have what I WANT, what would that be?
Many years ago, the Christian humorist, Grady Nutt, wrote a little book called “Being Me.” He wrote it for teens during those insecure years when they don’t know yet who they are and he called on them to not yield their uniqueness to conformity. There is an enormous pressure to “fit in,” to “not rock the boat” or “make waves.” And that pressure doesn’t dissipate after high school. There is the pressure to fit the mold in relationships and in jobs and in organizations.
But remember, this is the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Why should I stuff myself in the mold of everyone else when I was created to be me? No one else can be me; if I’m not me, there won’t be a me. And if you’re not you, there won’t be a you.
In Psalm 139:13-14 the Psalmist says to God,
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…
And as Ethel Waters said, “I know I’m somebody, ‘cause God don’t make no junk.”
I did a contest speech called “The River of Life” in which I encouraged people to “sing their own song” and “make their own kind of music,” to, in fact, be themselves and I won three levels of contests with that speech. After all that encouraging others to be themselves (and feeling confident they got the message) a woman who heard the speech asked me to work with her as she prepared a contest speech. Her stated reason – because she wanted to be just like me. Many of us think there is a pattern we can follow or a mold we can fit into and success or acceptance will follow.
Unfortunately, there is no mold to be successful as yourself and you may have to exercise both your bravery and your freedom to accomplish being fully yourself.
In a conversation with my brother and niece, I commented that my brother used to sound a lot like Elvis when he sang. My niece said to her Dad, “Gee, why didn’t you keep practicing – you could have gone to Las Vegas and made it big as an Elvis impersonator.” My theory is, if he had WANTED it, he might have become one of those single-named performers – an original Mickey rather than an Elvis impersonator!
I received an email with an Oscar Wilde quote on it that first made me laugh and then I had to stop and think about it. He said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Obviously, everyone we come into contact with makes an impact on us and changes us in some way and clearly we want to be knowledgeable of other thoughts and opinions than our own, but only if I know who I am and what I want, will I emerge from these contacts still being me.
In this “land of the free and the home of the brave,” who are you, what do you really want, what do you really have to offer, what do you really hope for? Understanding your needs and wants and skills is critical to navigating your way from where you are to where you want to be. You are unique – distinctive – plan to leave some evidence on this planet that you have been here. What a gift you are! Exercise your bravery and your freedom and share the gift of you with the rest of the world rather than being merely a replica of everyone else. Be strong! Be brave! Be free! Be yourself!