People talk a lot about role models. “Who is your role model?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked in interviews. I love the question because I believe it’s important for everyone to have someone to look up to, to model your behavior after, and to aspire to be like. So who is my role model? He’s a 12 year-old kid from my church. For the purposes of this post, I’m calling him “Max”, which isn’t anywhere close to his real name, but it happens to be one of my favorite boys names and he’s one of my favorite boys, sooo….
Max is my role model. He doesn’t have any special handicap that makes his life a struggle. He hasn’t exactly overcome long odds, no more than the next person trying to get by in the modern world. Outside observers wouldn’t necessarily consider him special at all, although they would notice right away that there’s something different about him. Max is ridiculously intelligent. No, I mean he’s gifted like great minds of science have been gifted. He was recently telling me all about a book he read recently on paradoxes, and then went on to explain Schrodinger’s Cat…and it made sense. This boy is going to cure cancer and stop global warming and bring world peace, yo.
But that’s not why he’s my role model. Sure, I admire intelligence, but Max has something that goes beyond intelligence. I am always tempted to be worried for him because his social skills are completely different from kids his own age. He talks to adults with perfect ease…blended with childlike enthusiasm. A lot of adults have made the mistake of talking to him like a kid at first, but he always surprises them in a hurry with the scope of his comprehension. He clearly doesn’t fit in perfectly with his peers. Sometimes they look at him a little funny. But when I see him interact with the other kids there isn’t the same sort of dynamic of bullying and ostracism that you would expect to see.
I’m friends with Max’s mom, and I recently expressed my worry that such a unique, old soul would be picked on or made miserable by his peers, especially as teenagerdom looms. You know what she said? Kids don’t bother bullying him. You know why? Because they can’t get a rise out of him. She told me a story about how he accidentally went to school with two entirely different socks last year. One kid tried to tease him by pointing out that he was wearing two different socks. Max’s response? A calm shrug and “And your point is?”
Max is my hero because, at age 12, he is comfortable with who he is and doesn’t let the opinions of others get under his skin. He is fascinated with the world and eager to reach beyond what he’s taught in school to discover things for himself. He engages with everyone as if he is their equal and isn’t afraid to meet you on your own turf or to explain his turf to you.
There are a lot of things I think we can all learn from Max, especially writers. I was a total basket case at that age and I cared from the tips of my toes to the highest hair on my head what people thought about me. I imagined a thousand horrors that would (and frankly did) happen if my peers didn’t like me. I ate my heart out trying to fit in by pushing aside who I knew I was. I think we all do. But Max, for me, is living, breathing, punning, weird sock-wearing proof that even in middle school, if you are who you are and if you wear that person with pride and focus your energies on the things you love, you’re un-bully-able.
Every time we write a book, I can guarantee that somewhere in the backs of our minds is the worry about what people will think of us. We tie ourselves up in knots obsessing over whether we’re writing the right genre, if our characters are engaging, if our prose will appeal to readers. When the reviews come in, we tear our hair if someone didn’t like our writing and get super overexcited when they did. We care what people think. And not in the useful, constructive way.
These days, I’m all about approaching my writing career the way Max approaches life. I know what I write. I’m confident in my abilities, but I’m also always searching for new and better ways to do things. I try to talk as confidently with people who write my genre as I do with those who write other genres. And when those reviews come in, if someone didn’t like the choices my hero or heroine made, well, your point is? Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I don’t have to let them get under my skin. All I have to do is write.
So kudos to you, Max! I look forward to watching you grow into a teenager. I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine. And I’ll continue to look to you for the way I should be behaving in my career and my life.
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