by Mathilde Delonca
It took me a little over 40 years to realize that being exactly who I am may not be a determent to humans as we know it. In fact, my sense of humor, my somewhat unique way of thinking and how I approach the world may even be a wonderful and colorful addition. Kind of like a decorative scarf or glitter to an otherwise meh greeting card. I have an inner spiritual sparkle… if you will.
I’ve spent many years listening to one person after another tell me try and “tone it down”. My eight-grade gym teacher is one of the first people that comes to mind (granted, I probably shouldn’t have made a joke about the shuttlecock during her badminton lesson but still). Since then, it’s been a series of bosses, management, friends (or friends who didn’t really “get” me who I’m not really friends with anymore) and mostly authoritative-figure types who were the human equivalent of a salad with no dressing or like watching the entirety of Wizard of Oz on an old Black and White television set. Most of my life, I felt like a fantastic crème filled donut with rainbow sprinkles surrounded by plain rice cakes and the rice cakes were all like, “No really… you should be more like us! Flavorless, boring, bland and taste like a communion wafer!”
It is important to note that I’ve never been perfect, and no one is. I have had many lessons to learn and I still do. I actually take extraordinary pride that even though I’m now in my 40’s, I’m still learning new skills, still meeting new people and looking back at things I thought I made up my mind on and rethinking them. I’m never too proud to admit when I’m wrong, and I’m never too old to think, “Well, it’s too late for me to do something new.” I firmly believe no one is “finished” until you’re dead (and maybe not even then), so when I say that I’ve finally realized I should be who I am at heart, that doesn’t mean that I’ve been perfect all along or that I’ve been above criticism, advice, feedback or help. Because really, I needed all of it and a lot along the way.
My point before we go any further, please do not use my, “Turns out what I was cartelized for is what made me awesome!” realization as your get-out-free-jail-card when it comes to listening to anyone when they have feedback for you.
Now back to what I was saying…
At the heart of who I am has always been an irrepressible sense of humor. It’s been a coping mechanism and not a defense mechanism. This is a vital distinction. When I think of “defense”, it’s to push people away or implies hostility. Making jokes, finding the irony in life and having a sardonic wit has been employed to help me deal with feelings of anxiety, tension, stress or the difficulties in life I’ve felt whether it’s when I was younger and shy (no really, I was shy at one point), or after I got married and we started having issues conceiving our first child. Infertility was an incredible emotional, financial and painful strain on every aspect of my life, and it was then that I relied most heavily on my humor. It was because of that difficult time in my life that I learned one of my most powerful lessons.
I had been performing stand-up comedy during this time and working in an investment banking firm (which is not historically for its humor). My joke was “Corporate by day” and “Comedy by Night”. In my mind, it was like the famous ‘Plessy v. Ferguson Case” – separate but equal. I could let my “funny freak flag fly” in one place and fold it up and be only mildly anecdotal in the other. Once infertility issues were introduced into the mix, I started to blog about it as an outlet and in a humorous way (examples: “How would I like my eggs? Fertilized and implanted in my uterus!” and the time I shared the significance of getting an “IVF Bikini Wax” because when you have company coming over, you clean up ), and others like me in the infertility community connected with that dark humor. I started meeting more and more like-minded people who “got” me and more importantly, I started to “get” me.
I had an epiphany around then that if I did have a sense of humor and people who were struggling with something equally as stressful could perhaps benefit from it, I should start taking that very skill to those places and volunteer where it was needed. I had volunteered over the years here and there, but now, I started doing it more with a sense of purpose. One of the places I volunteered at was, “Noogieland” at Gilda’s Club (named after Gilda Radner who is very much known for taking her sense of humor and using it to cope with her own ovarian cancer diagnosis) where children who are either diagnosed with or whose family member is dealing with Cancer. There, I can assure you, no one told me to tone down my sense of humor as it was welcomed and needed. We laughed, played with board games, shared stories and once a week, forgot about the otherwise strains of life.
Very, very slowly and overtime, everything changed for me. My writing, my career (taking more work in the field of fertility and health), my family (as I did go on to have two sons), many of my friends even and my sense of self. Instead of separating things, I started combining them more, which meant I was able to be who I genuinely was 24/7. Imagine that? I slowly evolved into writing and marketing full-time where I now freelance for several different clients. I can take creative ideas and come up with campaigns to engage people about their health or lighten the mood if they are dealing with a specific illness like a cancer diagnosis or a genetic disorder, and overall, I’m particularly sought out and hired because I add levity and make difficult situations digestible, easier, manageable and dare I say it... funny.
That’s where, getting back to my very first sentence, I realized that the very thing I used to get in trouble for years ago, is what makes me stand out. Working for myself now, being able to explore what I now believe is some of the better parts of me: my humor and my empathy. I can post a funny image about how if I were a bra, what kind of one I’d be (spoiler alert: I’d be a support bra) or write a poem about how IVF can cost several bucks and make it rhyme with the word sucks and not fear about being called into someone’s office and being lectured. I can be the version of me I’m proud of and the people who love me, work with me, are my friends all know that’s who they are getting and don’t try to change it.
Recently, I saw a video online of Lisa Nichols, a motivational speaker. She spoke about people who may tell you not to “shine too brightly”. This absolutely spoke to me and my experience. At the very end, she encouraged everyone not to “dim their light”. My journey, the life I’m living now and her message is exactly what BeBold is encouraging women to consider. To be bold enough to ask yourself, “Wait… is the thing that makes me stand out and that may be too much for others the very thing that may set me apart?”
Again, there is so very much we must learn, and no one is perfect. Sometimes what seems like a flaw may be an asset and what seems like an asset may be something that needs work. As we continue to evolve as people, and as someone who took a while to figure this all out (and continues to quite honestly), my only advice is to be bold enough to keep asking yourself these questions until you find what makes you YOU.