Abraham Lincoln is said to have said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Possibly. He possibly said it.
The quote isn’t as ubiquitous on motivational pillows and Pinterest memes as is “Keep Calm and Carry On” and its unnumbered parodies and paraphrases, but the Great Emancipator’s possibly apocryphal thought is still a popular one.
I disagree, though.
If you’re an axe murderer, I want you to be a really, really crappy axe murderer. Like, the worst there is.
Also—and this is totally unrelated to that previous thought—what if you don’t know what you are? (Not me, of course. I’m asking for a friend.)
It’s easy to toss out a quick “I’m a journalist” to anyone who asks me what I do. I might say “I’m a writer.” If I’m feeling righteously confrontational, or confrontationally righteous, I’ll say “I’m a husband, father, and editor,” though that’s more of an answer to the Caterpillar’s “Who are you?” in Wonderland. Also, it sounds deliberately smug, so I don’t say it much.
But still. If I’m a writer, and I’m to be a good one; and I’m a husband, and I’m to be a good one; and I’m a father, and I’m to be a good one …
This is how my brain works. But it’s worse than that. I’ll get into my own head and start splitting the effort down into infinitesimally ridiculous categories in which I should be succeeding: I need to be a good dad who makes lunch for his oldest daughter while making sure both girls eat breakfast by 7:45 on school days—except for Mondays, in which case the deadline is 8:45 because of late start.
Note that being a good dad at the breakfast thing—which is not a regular achievement, I must say—is different from being a good dad in any and every other possible sliver of a segment of dadhood at which I could need to be good. So even if I hit one, I still have a nearly limitless field in which to not be good. And let Honest Abe down. (Not really, because he likely didn’t say it.)
And I also simultaneously need to be a good husband who’s letting his wife sleep a little longer than usual because the baby was up a lot last night considering his six teeth coming in, and she did most (all) of the dealing with his crabbiness. And all the other good husband stuff, too. And good employee stuff. And good son stuff. And good friend stuff. Blogger. Musician. Citizen. Shark saver and rape ender.
I know success isn’t measured this way—success isn’t something easily measured in any way—but I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t struggle with the struggle now and then. More so now than then.
Fortunately, I sometimes remember that I’m more than the sum of my scattered parts, and that helps, too, so maybe I just need to be a good rememberer.
Also, Abraham Lincoln (maybe, but probably didn’t) said “be a good” one, not a “great one,” so there’s that. He could’ve set the bar a little lower at “be an OK one,” but I’m not going to hold that against him.
How about you? What are you? Who are you?