This I Believe

Richard - Portland, Oregon
Entered on December 17, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Using What You’ve Got

Everyone wants to be witty and charming. We want to be like the funny, sexy, and smart people on TV, but few of us are. Instead, a lot of us are like Elmer Fudd, Archie Bunker, George Castanza or the Soup Nazi. Season after season we stay basically the same. Even if we grow and evolve, we still keep the same basic personality we were born with. Given that as a starting point, we might as well make the best of it. I believe in being honest about who and what you are. I believe in using what you’ve got.

Take me for example; I’ve got a salty, inert personality. My general sentiment is best explained by the phrase, Oh really. . . I think I actually have the word curmudgeon carved into my brain stem. I also have the distractibility of a chipmunk, and as if that weren’t enough, I’m bossy and self righteous. Years ago I picked a life that made it all work for me. I became a high school teacher! Oh, I temper my “negative” traits with humor and compassion, but I need to be at least a little bossy to do my job. I also need my skills as a doubter to slice through adolescent deception, and my attention deficit problem helps me teach at the same speed most of my students learn.

I performed the psycho-emotional alchemy that made my personality viable, but it wasn’t always that way. I was at war with my own anger for years. I fought it, and denied it and was ashamed of it. I turned it inward and it became depression. I tried to wash it away with booze. I blamed it on my parents and life in general. Nothing worked. Then, in the third decade of struggle, I decided I could no more change it than I could change the faces of Rushmore with a teaspoon. I gave up. I was just cranky, just born that way. After that when my anger flared I didn’t indulge it or place blame; I just noticed it. Much to my surprise, it just walked off on its own. It came back of course, but for shorter, less frequent and intense visits. I found myself in a situation of responsibility but acceptance; I decided to call it maturity.

If you are going to use what you’ve got, you have to take an unbiased look inside yourself and make peace with whatever you find. You have to accept that what you feel has more to do with you, than whatever surrounds you. Of course we can all imagine situations that would compel us to feel jealousy, rage or any other emotion, and believe me there are institutions full of people who are not responsible for their emotions. My classroom is one of them.

I dedicated my teaching career to students with special needs, kids in trouble with the law, kids with a mental health diagnosis. Over the years I taught legions of students to recognize and modify unwanted behavior, but I never taught them how to change who they were. I believe that the personality that lives in you comes from some mysterious well spring, but it’s yours. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Make it work for you. A wise old mariner summed it up best when he said, I yam what I yam Olive, I yam what I yam.