The day I started college, I changed my name to Ali.
Ali knew the name of every girl on her floor by the end of freshman orientation. She “studied” with friends in the commons, pulled all-nighters in the dorm lobby, and never missed a meal in the rowdy cafeteria.
Ali was a social butterfly.
Fake It to Make It
Toward the end of freshman year, Ali applied for a job as Resident Assistant (RA). Rumor had it only applicants who scored “ENFP” on the Myers-Briggs personality test would be selected.
(ENFP stands for Extroversion, iNtuition, Feeling, and Perception. To sum up, ENFPs are big on people.)
The requirement made sense, because an RA’s job was to build relationships with floor mates, address their needs, and enforce dorm rules. The RA’s door was to be open – literally and figuratively – as often as possible.
Ali could handle this. Ali could make herself an ENFP.
It wasn’t hard to fabricate answers on the Myers-Briggs to manipulate an ENFP result. The challenge was living up to her supposed personality throughout the RA vetting process. As Resident Directors (RDs) observed and took notes, Ali endured hours of on-the-spot team building, peer interaction, and problem solving.
The charade was a success. She was awarded an RA position for the following school year.
A Tangled Web Unravels
Fast forward six months.
Ali slumped on a couch in her RD’s apartment, crying silent tears as the woman chronicled her failures as an RA:
Lack of enthusiasm for dorm activities.
Inadequate efforts to connect with floor mates.
Disinterest in teaming up with other RAs.
The RD’s interrogation was relentless. Was Ali concealing some secret trauma? Surely something monumental had caused her transformation from bubbly powerhouse to depressed recluse.
The RD was right. Ali had changed, and she was hiding something:
Facts Behind Fiction
I like people, but I don’t like being around them 24/7.
I prefer my door closed, not open.
And the word “teamwork” makes me want to run far, far away.
I, Alison, am not (and never was) extroverted RA material.
Thus my conundrum when the burden of being Ali-the-ENFP-RA grew too heavy to bear. The real me could no longer perpetuate the myth I’d created. The effort of doing so had drained my spirit, and exhaustion made my swing from false extrovert to genuine introvert that much more dramatic.
I said nothing to my RD. Had I told her the truth, would she have believed me? Ali had been pretty convincing. Ali was the only story she knew of me.
But Ali was only a single chapter in a much larger story.
Had my RD known me before college (and had I not been a liar) she would have realized Ali was the creation of a hurting high-school girl desperate to escape herself. She would have seen the dark stain of insecurity seeping into the teenage soul of a quiet, sensitive, wounded introvert named Alison.
She would have known another chapter of my story, and in the knowing moved one step closer to the truth of who I am.
The Power of the Single Chapter
We all have complicated stories. How often do others define us by a single chapter? How often do we do the same?
I’d all but forgotten the awkward “Ali” phase of my life until I watched a TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie: “The Danger of a Single Story.” (If you haven’t seen it, click here. I promise, your nineteen minutes will be well spent.)
Chimamanda’s message struck a chord because I was in the middle of researching my current novel-in-progress, which takes place in Rwanda.
Talk about a place defined by a single story.
When I mention Rwanda, some people respond with confusion (“Is that a country?”), but most offer grave acknowledgement of the 1994 genocide. There is no escaping the power of that single chapter in the nation’s history, but how do those 100 days of genocide interact with the rest of the story?
This month Rwanda recognizes the genocide’s 20th anniversary (though anniversary seems an inappropriate word).
In honor of the brave survivors who have labored toward forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration, I will be blogging about Single Chapters.
We all have them. We all read them.
So let us ask: What is their power, and how do we wield it?
If you looked at your life as a series of chapters, and chose only one to share with the world, how would that chapter define you?