“My question is, and you might not even know the answer to this, why do you feel like you always have to be funny?”
Surprisingly, this question was posed to me during a conversation with a professor, and not a paid session with a therapist.
It’s a question I dread. A question that keeps me up at night, and makes my stomach hurt when walking home from parties. And yet, I couldn’t help but laugh, as this was the first time someone other than me was asking it. And I knew the answer.
I am the least confident person I know.
Or at least I felt that way for most of my life. My personality is an acquired taste. I didn’t like how I looked, I hated that I wasn’t athletic or naturally smart and social interactions gave me a sick feeling.
Looking back on it now, it could have been much worse. My lack of confidence always remained a benign voice in the back of my head. My problems were not external. I had friends who accepted my eccentricities, and parents that exceeded what it meant to support and encourage a child.
But none of that could get past that internal voice saying, “You’re not good enough.”
In middle school and high school, my way of coping was self-deprecating humor. I would lean into my oddities and turn to my friends to say, “How weird was that?” It allowed me to feel like I was fully a part of my group, and helped me to deal with the parts of myself I didn’t like.
Then, in 2014, Amy Poehler published “Yes Please.” She devoted a whole chapter to talking about how she dealt with her own lack of confidence. Her advice was, “Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”
It didn’t matter I wasn’t cute or smart or athletic, because as long as I had something I was set. Can you imagine hearing this as a weird, teenage theatre dork in Massachusetts from a former weird, teenage theatre dork raised in Massachusetts? I ate that shit up!
So, I picked being funny. Being funny was the one thing I knew I could be. Making other people laugh, whether it be at my own expense or not, gave me more joy than anything else in my life.
Being funny became my $100 bill. I cashed it in during every uncomfortable situation, rejection and moment of self doubt. I drowned out that voice in the back of my head with the sound of laughter.
Amy Poehler’s three-sentence anecdote helped me discover a part of myself that I not only liked, but valued. It made me feel like I had something to bring to the table.
It also is what led me to feel like I always had to be funny.
I believed the only way I could be of value to a group of people was by being funny. It became less for fun and more for survival. I’d find myself in a room full of people spitting out any joke I could think of and hoping one would stick, all the while watching the energy drain from the faces around me. My currency was inflated, and the value was going down.
I realize now, as a junior in college, my spaz brain failed to interpret what Amy Poehler really meant.
One trait can’t possibly be the extent of a person’s currency. One trait means a one dimensional character, and if I know anything, I know I’m not that. Not to mention it’s exhausting. My other traits are a part of the totality of my person, and I need to acknowledge them. I owe it to myself.
It’s been four years since I first read Amy Poehler’s advice, and I’m approaching it with a new perspective. I’m trying to determine the full extent of my currency. I’m reinvesting in myself by taking another look at who I am and what I have to offer.
There are still moments where I still feel like an uncomfortable teenager who wants to shrink back inside of herself, and I don’t think that will ever go away. When that feeling comes, I try to remind myself that I am not an uncomfortable teenager, just a nervous adult having an off day.
I’m taking small steps toward feeling like a balanced, well rounded person. And it’s kind of fun! There’s an excitement to discovering value where I did not see it originally, and a power in realizing the pennies, nickels and dimes are just as important as the $100 bills.