A Large Part Of Happiness Is Knowing Who You Really Are


There’s nothing better in life than finding a job that fits you, is there? Each day you go to work in a place you like, where people like you, and where you fit. Once that happens, few of us ever look around for other possibilities. Forty-five years of work go by. Retirement rolls around. And that’s that. Sayonara.

But as good as that “good” job may be; it may not be the only one where you’d be happy. Each of us has more than one Tom, Dick or Harriet in us. There might be a job somewhere that’s perfect for you. Unless you find it, you’ll never know what you missed.

I’m not talking about fame or about some great talent hidden inside you — the undiscovered movie star; the great singer, writer, or painter — the talent that would put your name up in lights.

That’s not what I mean. Let’s hope that no latter-day Thomas Gray will ever stand frowning over your grave and say, “Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest ...” Uh-Uh! Let’s hope that if you have that much talent it will find its way out somehow or other.

Nevertheless, I can’t tell you how many people I have read about who never discovered who they really were until quite late in life. In fact, I even knew a man like that once, one of a pair of identical twins named Terry and Danny. 

When I finished high school, I gave up all thought of college because my high school counselor told me that my color-blindness would prevent me from becoming a scientist. Instead, I took a dead-end job in a local bakery — the “kid” on the night shift. Two twin brothers ran the bakery, the best bakery in town. As my days working there went by I could not help wondering how twins could be so different. The day never dawned that Terry failed to greet with a smile, or that Danny greeted with anything but a scowl.

Being a nobody, I said nothing about it until one day, just by chance, one of the bakers, my stepfather’s friend who had gotten me the job, happened to say, “Sometimes I wish that %$#@! Danny would die the way he’s supposed to.”

That’s a hard line to ignore. I asked about it. Here’s what I learned: Terry and Danny grew up as most identical twins do, alike in every way — except for one: The way they looked at the future.

Terry was delighted with the prospect of taking over the family bakery. Danny wanted to “become someone.”

And he did. While Terry stayed home and gradually took over the bakery from Mom and Dad, Danny earned an MBA and signed on with a major corporation. It wasn’t long before he became a power in the corporate world. By the time his father passed away he could have bought and sold the old bakery a dozen times. People pointed to him as the family success and wondered what was wrong with his twin brother, who had “never amounted to much.”

But then things began to go wrong. Little by little Danny’s health began to deteriorate. On trips home he looked like a bag of bones next to his happy, healthy twin brother. Then came “that” day, the day he returned to New London to tell his mother and brother he had come home to die, that the doctors had given him no hope, that his ulcer was going to kill him, and that he had less than six months to live. That was about the time I met him.

Deciding that if he had to die, he would at least die on his feet, Danny went back to work in the bakery, waiting on customers as he used to in his teens. And, of course, waiting to die. I’ll skip right to the end. Danny did well for quite a while. Three years later he was still there, still alive, and getting better. The doctors said he was cured. But that sour look never left his face. It seemed he just could not handle not being something he wasn’t. In the end, his inability to face facts cost him his life. 

What does that say? The very least it says is that it pays to look within yourself and see who’s there. You may meet someone you like — or someone you should avoid at all costs.

Is it possible that hidden within each of us lie other possibilities? A psychologist would say yes. He might illustrate it for you by drawing circles on a piece of paper. For a married woman he might label a circle “wife,” another “mother,” “sister,” “friend,” “neighbor,” “office manager,” “skier” and so on.

As he drew the circles he would overlap them, showing how they intertwine. He’d write down things you say and do in each role you play in life, showing you how you are not quite the same person to all people, but are a genuinely multi-faceted individual.

Each of is truly more than one person, but the sad fact is that sometimes we fail to learn which of us is the real “me.” At times you can sense it in someone. Have you ever seen that? Seen that lost look in someone’s eyes? Sensed that yearning? Felt the emptiness, the sad sense of a life unfulfilled.

Michelangelo once said of his sculptures that the people he sculpted were already there in the marble, waiting for him to release them with his chisel. I’ve seen some of Michelangelo’s works, but I’ve never had the privilege of standing before the magnificent nine-foot-tall block of marble called the Cross-Legged Slave, which Michelangelo never got to finish. I’ve seen photos of it though, and I tell you, if that incomparable masterpiece doesn’t make you gasp for air as you eye the struggle of man to emerge from stone you aren’t quite as human as you think.

On a simpler note, consider what I did in my first Air Force hitch. My outfit was an Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. Our radar sets detected incoming enemy aircraft, and our radio section vectored fighters to intercept them. The radar and radio sections were the heart of the unit, the elite. Everyone else was support — linesmen, tech supply, supply, admin, motor pool, security, and — the very bottom rung of the ladder — food service.

Whoever I am, I have known all my life that deep within me lives the soul of a peasant. Trust me, if there are any Dukes or Duchesses, Counts or Kings in my family tree, they’re the names of family pups. I come from peasant stock, from Baden-Baden, Germany, a family of grape stompers. Peasants like to work. They measure the value of a day by how much work they have accomplished.

And one day, to everyone’s amazement, I proved it.

In the radio section in the 103rd AC&W Squadron we had men, but no radios — and none due in. Our section NCOIC told us to “go get lost,” to lay around all day, do nothing, goof off. I tried. I could not do it. Not a chance. Without work I felt useless. So I volunteered for the food service section, the lowest of the low.

And I worked. Hard! Was that crazy? Sure. But was I unhappy? No. When I looked in the mirror each day I saw someone I liked.

How about you, Johnny? Who do you see in the mirror?


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.