If a person declares that she doesn’t “take herself too seriously,” the connotations are that she’s relaxed and fun; up for anything, down for anything, and never perturbed by the “small stuff.”
She’s laid back, and that’s generally a good trait.
Indeed, I’ve dropped this phrase — “I don’t take myself too seriously” — in countless conversations, encouraging my friends, students, and self looking back at me in the mirror to just breathe and let things roll off.
Because I’m laid back. Super laid back. Sunbathing-on-a-tropical-beach-in-July laid back.
In fact, I’m so laid back that recently, when my boyfriend’s grandmother offered to make me breakfast (three different times on the same morning), in spite of being hungry, I responded — all three times — with an ultra-relaxed-
(I ended up nauseous and sick a few hours later because I hadn’t eaten, but it’s because I don’t take things like accepting the kindness of free breakfast too seriously.)
Because I’m wicked laid back.
At a conference over the summer, I spent three hours working on a unit plan with a colleague (whose only contribution was “re-purposing” (a lá Ctrl+C) lessons he found online — that weren’t aligned with the standards or content we were creating a unit for), then let him take the lead when it was time to present because I didn’t want him to think I was, like, taking things too seriously. Because I’m am the essence and quintessence of laid-backness.
I’ve paid for food I didn’t order rather than bother the waitstaff to correct the bill; I’ve waited outside friends’ houses for ten, fifteen, thirty minutes after receiving the, “BRT” text because it’s not like I had anything better to do; I let an ex-boyfriend keep my brand-new TV instead of demanding that he give my shit back, because giving in is just so much more chill than being assertive.
And confidence? That’s entirely un-chill, too, which is why I spend time thoughtfully listening to my coworkers at meetings, then carefully articulate a balanced and thorough reply… and follow it up with a mumbled, “butImightbewrong.” When serving up solicited advice, I always make sure to toss in a side dish of, “I don’t know, though…” even if I do fucking know.
It’s so much cuter to be unsure, though!
Because if people knew that I know then I would, by default, be taking myself seriously. And that’s not what I’m all about.
Or rather, that’s what the issue here is all about.
No one should stress over innocuous things; traffic, acne, a spilled drink, an unreciprocated text message. Not taking myself seriously should mean that these blips don’t register on my “things that matter” radar. And they don’t, and I think I’m a better person for it. However, I am not a better person when I don’t take myself seriously in situations where I deserve to be taken seriously. There’s a distinct difference between going with the flow and letting the flow pull you whichever way it pleases.
I’m an intelligent person who’s accomplished pretty neat stuff in my 26 years of life, yet when the time comes to advocate for myself in a positive way I’ll either balk or — even worse — illustrate myself negatively using sarcasm, conveying that I lack confidence in myself. This is where the delicate balance between not being too serious about yourself and not being too kind to yourself can fall out of equilibrium.
(Adjectives and prepositions are very important!)
For instance, when I joke to a group of adult friends about being the dumbest person in America for this reason or that, it’s usually pretty funny.
But I’m a teacher, and as the first day of classes rapidly approaches, it’s evermore apparent that I’m not doing anyone any favors by disparaging myself like that. Maybe it’s harmless in the company of adults, but when I use myself as an example of physical, emotional, or intellectual ridiculousness in front of my students, especially the female students, I’m setting an example that invites them to disparage themselves, too.
It’s hard to not be consumed by constant negativity. There’s always more work than time allows; more bills than paychecks can cover; more exhaustion than sleep can supplement. Joking about myself relieves the severity of adult life, and that’s healthy.
Joking and ridiculing, though, are not synonyms.
So while it’s fine to laugh at myself when I misspell a word on the white board, it’s never okay to comment that it’s a mark against my value as a person.
In the above misspelled word situation, sighing that, “I’m so stupid,” would be the behavior that creates negative habits of mind and promotes passivity. I have some great traits; among them are a decent sense of humor, but I also have a collection of valuable knowledge and experiences to share with my professional and classroom communities. It’s my job to augment my knowledge and experience with humor; not bury it under a cloud of humor. And this isn’t just because I deserve to be taken seriously, it’s because my students deserve a role model who is empowered by her own intelligence.
But I don’t know. I might be wrong.