We are on the eve of yet another new year. We may make resolutions. We may keep some resolutions. More than likely we will do neither. However, many of us will reflect on the year that was and wonder as to what they year to come will be.
This past October I attended a conference where one of the speakers noted that she had been remiss in letting other people write her story. Others had dictated her narrative. She noted that she had been at a business networking reception where someone told her what had ostensibly happened to her that year when in reality none of what that person had said was true. Yet, that was the story that others at this networking reception knew of her as individuals other than her had written it. At that time, I sat and laughed at the story thinking of the typical “telephone” game where you whisper a sentence to one individual and they whisper and so on until the last person blurts out the sentence which at that point is completely mangled.
Looking back a few months later, I think of how that “telephone” game is played out with our narratives. We often allow others to write our own stories while we stand on the sidelines. Oprah noted that we should not allow others to write our own script. True. But that speaks to not letting others dictate our actions and, to a certain extent, our motivations. I completely get that sentiment and wholeheartedly agree with that. Yet, there is also something about our “narrative” that we should not allow others to appropriate as well.
As a society we appear to be hungry to write our own story. One need not look any further for proof than the rise and extreme love of “the selfie”. Is the selfie not only an ode to our ever-growing narcissism but also a reflection of a deep-rooted desire to document and narrate our lives. There is a long-standing soap opera in the United States called Days of our Lives (started in 1969) whose introductory line notes “like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” The selfie is an embodiment of the sands of the hourglass. People want to capture themselves as how they see themselves and not how others do through a viewfinder.
A while back, I had noted to a colleague that I plan at some point on writing my own biography. That colleague questioned whether I have lived long enough to write my own biography; as well as questioning what in the world I could even write about. Think about it. If you were to go to a publishing house and note you want to write and distribute your auto-biography they may very well think you are mad. The selfie allows us to go ahead and narrate our story. Other technological and social media advances have also brought about that ability to tell our own story. There is now a glut of narration technologies out there that not only allows us to tell our story but also change what our story is about. We are now being molded by the very technologies that were to free us so we could tell our story.
Right now, while in Germany I took a few selfies. In all my life I think I have taken a total 20 selfies. This trip I took a few selfies of me in the mirror of one of the rooms at the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. This beautiful place is the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. Apparently, he was a very modest king who let commoners who were well-dressed visit the palace. The name of the palace means “without concerns”, and having “no worries.” In one of the reception rooms, stood a grand mirror where I stayed behind for a few seconds while other tourists stepped onto through to the next adjoining room. I stood there and could feel the king’s need for beautiful objects as well as the need for being away from the pomp and circumstance. This palace is small (only 11 rooms) and comfortable. He had a music room where there was a piano and a cherished flute. He composed over 100 flute sonatas. He was a multi-layered person who was forced to be king, but apparently did it well while managing to be both a patron of the arts and an artist.
I took my selfie in that room knowing that who I saw in the mirror was the same person I saw 20 years ago and will be the same person I see in 20 years (knock on wood-I am Puerto Rican, after all and we are very superstitious). While at the core I am the same person, I have evolved. I have gone from scared quiet little Bronx girl that hid and was fine with people forgetting she was around, to a strong and highly opinionated, passionate scientist. Put a microphone in front of me and I become a diva. I like to rock the mike and then I take a step back. That’s where I stand now.
In a day I will evolve again. Next year, I get to reinvent myself yet again. Rather, I get to try on a new role where my inner core beliefs hold steady. I will have to become an even fiercer and louder fighter. I will rock the mike and hold court. I cannot let others dictate my story. I have often let others says what they will because I felt it was ok to be a mystery to many people. In a way, I let my mysterious air be my secret weapon. Next year, I can’t afford to be so mysterious. I will have to write my story for all to read. I will have to narrate my story for all to hear. I will write my own script.
For now, my rare selfie in King Frederick’s small, yet ornate palace showed me my stature, the roads I have traveled and the mountain I have yet to climb.
I alone write my own story and I am the sum of all parts.