On Self: Finding Cassandra

October 10, 2008
It’s something I’ve always done. I would envision my ideals, the future, an ideal version of myself in the future. I was a keen observer of humans and from my observations, I carefully sifted through the hundreds of characteristics I’d found, choosing, with great pride, the ones I would apply to myself. I admired the selfless, courageous people I would read about, or watch in movies, or sometimes even have the pleasure of meeting in real life. I was entranced by people I found to be absolutely enchanting, and yet modest and sweet. There was Belle, for example, she was beautiful and yet she was deep, she had compassion and she cared for others. She saw the Beast for more than just a beast. She was a heroine, to me, along with many others. Among hundreds of the characteristics I collected, I honored integrity, creativity, compassion, beauty, mercy, and brilliance. I must have been only around the age of four, and I doubt I even knew what those words meant, but I could feel them, understand them. I felt a connection to them, and I knew they were what I wanted to be.

Out of my countless ideals, I created “Cassandra”. “Cassandra” was an ideal version of myself. Basically, she was me. Only perfect. She was no fair-weather friend, she was with me through thick and thin... Alas, the ideal of me would never dessert anyone, even the lame chick she knew as reality (cough*me*cough). She was the result of a strong imagination and fierce determination to be “good”. Good at what? Good at everything, I suppose. She was brilliant, an extremely powerful writer, a poet, an artist capable of moving the average human to tears with one sketch. She was kind, considerate, an inspiration to all. There was nothing she couldn’t do, as she was naturally talented. She was constantly achieving great things. She could be the lead singer/songwriter of a revolutionary rock band one minute, an admired, sophisticated psychiatrist, the next. And of course, I had to make her beautiful. And oh, she was beautiful, so breathtakingly gorgeous that, at times, growing up, I would have to erase her image from my mind, several times, as nothing I could come up with was ever as beautiful as she was supposed to be. And on top of everything else, she had not a single care for herself; she only sought to send her message, to help people, and greatness just seemed to follow.

As I grew up, I entered a stage of bewilderment. I was probably around the tender age of thirteen, when I realized that there was a definite disconnection between “Cassandra” and I. That being, I wasn’t exactly her. Gorgeous, artistic individuals of the male gender weren’t constantly ringing my doorbell, like they did hers. Or at least, not every five seconds. I’d tried to start the piano, but quit because it just didn’t feel right, and I didn’t have the patience to practice. “Cassandra” would have just taken right to it, and if she didn’t, she certainly wouldn’t have quit. I was good at the sports I played, but never a star. I was a good writer, a poet, even, but a rather shy, closet poet. No one even knew about the one thing I considered myself to be truly good at. I could draw; paint, but none of my works ever got a tear from anyone. I was smart, but I couldn’t call myself brilliant. I had so many things to say, but I wouldn’t say them. I was either afraid people would reject my ideas, or afraid that people would think I was a show-off. “Cassandra” would never have been afraid. She never would have felt awkward, about anything... Yeah, I was kind, but I would, on occasion, catch myself being self-centered, and then proceed to beat myself up about it, becoming more self-centered, for choosing to dwell on the fact that I was being self-centered. Of course, the lovely “Cassandra” never would have had that problem.

Time continued to pass and I noticed more and more things that separated me from “Cassandra”. I felt worthless. She was a perfect shadow, always floating, (gracefully, of course) in the back of my mind. I wanted to hate her, but how could I? After all, she really was a nice, wonderful person. So instead of hating her, I began to hate myself. Not a fierce hate. I didn’t cut myself; I didn’t crank up the radio and scream in my room. In fact, my hate was so discreet, I didn’t even notice it. It was very gradual. I gradually decided that I was never going to achieve anything like the things I’d dreamt about, and so there was no point in trying. I could have gotten A’s, but I chose not to study, and “got by” with B and A-. I could have scored more goals, but I chose not to run faster. I met a truly fantastic guy once. Honestly, he was nothing short of perfect. And now, with the frustratingly glorious gift of hindsight, I realize he had a definite interest in me. But I completely ignored him. I didn’t even look his way. He eventually gave up. The truth is, I didn’t think I was anything special, and so naturally, I didn’t see why he should. Poor guy. Ugh, poor ME.

Eventually, I just couldn’t take the apathy. Did I mention the apathy was another thing I was disappointed with? It sucked. But eventually, I became to rise out of it all. How? I don’t even know. Perhaps there was nowhere to go but up. One day, I looked in the mirror, and forced myself to see myself as I was. It wasn’t “Cassandra” standing there, looking back at me. It was just, just me. Me, with a red nose and slightly frizzy hair. I have to say, it was painful. But I endured. The more I looked, the more I saw that I wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t the great beauty I’d always wanted to be. But I was alright. And I could definitely work with “alright”. Eventually, I even began to think I was pretty. Or at least on the prettier side. I mean hey, I was taking what I could get.

Everything else seemed to follow in hot pursuit. I suddenly began to appreciate everything that I really was. Maybe I wasn’t as quite as brilliant, talented, and nice as I once wanted to be. But I was still decently brilliant, decently talented, and pretty darn nice. I realized that people liked me, just the way I was, and I marveled at how I could ever have been disappointed in myself. I stopped beating myself up for being what I presumed to be shy, and self-centered. And I think in the process, I actually became less shy and self-centered. And apparently not many people thought I was terribly shy and self-centered to begin with. Kind of ironic, really... Anywhu, I began to truly value the person I really am, and in the process, began to really value life. I made efforts to cherish the moment, to “seize the day”. That’s not to say I still don’t dream about the future, it’s just that now, I’m not afraid to act, in the present. Most of all, I cut myself some damn slack. I finally gave myself room to breathe. It’s not that I lowered my standards. I just became strong enough to face what I couldn’t do, and be fine anyways.

Looking back, I don’t regret “Cassandra” in the least bit. Sure, it was disgustingly hard to keep up with her, but she instilled within me, whether she did it subconsciously or not, goals. When I couldn’t meet those exact goals, I was disappointed. But when I finally took the time to appreciate who I really was, when I stopped throwing myself under the bus, I realized that I was actually more like her than I ever could’ve imagined. Without even realizing it, I had become her, or at least something very, very close to it. The moral of the story? I didn’t meet my ideals, but I came pretty, crazy close. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if maybe, ideals aren’t even meant to be met. Maybe, their purpose if to shape you, but not to make you. “Cassandra” was an ideal, and she served her purpose, just like the rest of them. But when the time came to let her go, I was more than ready. To find myself, and to ditch the stupid quotation marks.

“Ideals are like stars: you will not succeed in touching them with your hands, but like the seafaring man on the ocean desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them, you reach your destiny.”
Carl Schurz
US (German-born) general

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