Recently I took a personality test where I had to check off words that describe me. Meanwhile, my mom was watching over my shoulder.
“You don’t consider yourself sophisticated, do you?” she asked.
I thought for a moment. Was this an insult? I’m polite. I think before I speak when I remember to. I say please and thank you. I smile politely when smiled at. I act serious at funerals. I try to present myself in a good light. If the definition is what I thought it was, then yes, “I’m sophisticated.”
“When I think sophisticated, I think Kate Middleton,” she replied.
Then I had a “moment” with myself. My mind replayed all the times in my life when I was maybe too refined. When I held back when I shouldn’t have, simply to keep a polished image, to do “what’s right” and, most important, to not make a fool of myself. Is there one word that means “she takes herself too seriously?” If so, then maybe that’s the word I meant to check off. That might be OK for Princess Kate, but last I checked, I’m no princess.
Even so, I guess on most days I’m more like Princess Kate than, say, Lady Gaga, if you know what I mean. Mom didn’t see me like the latter, but she didn’t see me acting like a reserved princess either.
I guess that’s not an insult after all. If I had to choose – and I do get to choose – I’d rather be the person who doesn’t sacrifice her sparkle by worrying about making a fool-proof impression on others. You know those people who you stare at thinking, “Oh my God, do they realize they are on the train singing out loud in front of all of us?” In a weird way, I want to be like that. OK, maybe not quite that way. But I want to be a person who laughs at herself when she tears her dress on a turnstile (that happened to me) or the person who keeps walking across the Brooklyn Bridge even after her dress blew over her head in the wind (also happened to me…different dress). In a nutshell, I admire people who aren’t freaked out by mishaps and who don’t care what other people think when they happen. For my whole life, I’ve cared too much.
I think we need to learn to freestyle our way through life.
I used to take a dance class with other women of all ages. Out of nowhere, our teacher would tell us to break into freestyle. It was so unpredictable that I couldn’t plan a bathroom break in advance. Worse – we weren’t told how long the freestyles would last, so you had to shimmy and shake and wiggle until she told us to stop. All the while, over the soothing music, I’d hear our teacher’s angelic voice telling us to “let go and feel the music…be comfortable in your skin…don’t worry what others are doing…don’t worry about what you look like…just keep moving…”
In the midst of my paranoia, I was hearing her message and loving it. I closed my eyes and pretended I was dancing alone. I eventually began to feel free.
I’ve come so far in learning to relax and stop caring what other people think of me. I’m somewhere between sitting at the front of the room and raising my hand to volunteer to demonstrate the activity. That’s me these days. It might have taken a few breakthrough moments, like the following…
I took a road trip with girl friends right after college. We had finally made it to the West Coast, and we were tired and giddy and sober and smitten with the beauty of the black Pacific Ocean under a starry night sky. We decided, with a little bit of pushing each other, to go skinny dipping in the ocean. It was dark, so that helped. But I closed my eyes, dropped my clothes and ran in, screaming and laughing my head off.
During a vacation in Texas with my boyfriend and his family and friends, I found myself one night singing karaoke. If you know me, you know I do not sing karaoke. You know I do not sing on trains, or in public – period. You know I do not like to be on center stage. But I secretly love to sing. I remember my dance teacher’s message, and a voice in my head said, “let go and be comfortable…don’t worry about how I look or sound…just sing…”
I think that’s what the song means when they say “I hope you dance.” Surely that’s what they mean when they say “dance like no one is watching.” We need to break into freestyle on the dance floor, in the ocean, in a karaoke bar and on the streets of life more often. Because really, people either aren’t watching, or if they are, they’re probably saying “I want what she’s got.”