“I am thirty-two flavors and then some.” ~Ani DiFranco
For as long as I can remember, I feel like there has always been someone asking, “Who do you think you are?”
When I was a kid, my mother used to shout at me, “Who the hell do you think you are?!” every time I did anything….like breathe.
Then, it wasn’t a question I was supposed to answer. It was more an accusation.
Like, who I was, a scruffy kid wearing various patterns of plaid, prescription eyeglasses I found in someone’s trash and my mother’s old retainer, was a person who considered herself better than her surroundings. I did, I just didn’t have the goods to back it up.
In school, the question would be framed up along the lines of, Describe yourself in one paragraph.
I could do it in two words: Dying inside.
But that’s not what you’re supposed to say when you’re eight. So instead, I would write about how I loved horses and New Kids on the Block. Then I would lie about the rest, so as not to tip-off the authorities. Snitches get stitches, you know.
When I got to college, the question became: Who do you think you are and where do you think you’re going?
The answer was: I’m someone who doesn’t really belong here. I don’t have the money to be here. I was voted most likely to end up in an episode of Cops, not a private college. And I don’t know where I’m going. I’m just trying to go.
But, obviously, no one says that. Instead, I said I loved to read and write. And then I filled the remaining spaces with lies, because, fuck you Social Services, that’s why.
When I graduated from college and began interviewing for jobs, the hiring manager would inevitably lead with, “So, tell me about yourself.”
And I would say the expected thing. I would tell the interviewer that I was highly motivated, with a versatile skill-set and a willingness to go the extra mile to achieve my business objectives.
But, I would leave out the part about how I was drowning in a gazillion dollars of student loan debt. Hence my willingness to go the extra mile.
I wouldn’t explain that I was so broke, I could only afford to eat Ramen Noodles and that I was really just desperate to afford food that couldn’t be found in a bomb shelter (motivation).
And, I definitely wouldn’t say that I had only applied to their company, because it was within a ten mile radius of my apartment. A requirement, since I’d be running out of gas money about two weeks into every month and would need to be able to ride my bike to work (versatile skill set).
Then, of course, there have been all the day-to-day encounters with new people I meet as I go about my daily life; other parents, new friends, mental health experts, etc.
“Tell me about yourself,” they say.
In response, I always feel the need to say, “Are you sure?”
Because, the unwrapped version of me can resemble a bit of a shit storm.
In fact, I once made a woman cry. Not because of me, but on behalf of me. She kept saying, “That’s so awful. I don’t know what to say, that’s just so, so awful.”
This, after I shared a story….too soon into our growing friendship apparently….about how, when I was a kid, my family and I were asked not to return to church.
I mean, we got kicked out of church! The details were pretty pathetic, but I thought my delivery was funny. I had expected tears of laughter, not tears of sympathy.
Had I known she was so delicate and had she known I’d been the kid who teachers and my friends parents looked at and said, “Well, I just hope she ends up in a nice trailer park,” we might have been better prepared for one another.
Instead, I had duped her with my cardigan and talk of my hopes and dreams regarding the upcoming PTO bake sale.
And I had assumed, partly due to the gangster rap I could hear coming from her mini-van in the school pick-up line, that she was the kind of the chick who could handle me.
So, it’s really kind of a loaded question, isn’t it? This whole, “Who do you think you are?” thing. The kind of question you answer by describing the you who fits the moment and the person who is asking.
It’s the kind of question we aren’t really supposed to answer honestly. At least not until we’re absolutely certain we’ve landed the job, the friend, the significant other, the illusion of propriety. It’s exhausting.
Honestly, we’ve all got baggage. And I gotta tell ya, I’d rather people just unpack that shit and lay it out so I know what I’m dealing with.
So, I’ll go first:
Hi – I’m James. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to hide under our porch and eat sour sour grass.
Now you go….