When I was a young fat kid. Popeye gave me the key to a happy life. I used to worry about what I should be rather than what I was. It warped my responses to almost everything around me. In some cases it was a huge blow to my self-confidence in others it was a motivating factor for success and most certainly the foundations of the philosophy by which I try to live my life. “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am or as Popeye would say it , ” I yam what I Yam and that’s all that I yam.”
There is a lot of meaning in that short cartoon sentence.
I was sick for months in 2nd or 3rd grade, it weakened my legs and I got to spend my days and nights laying on the couch in the living room because it was difficult to get upstairs to my bedroom. During that period there was little to do during the day but watch TV, read or eat. I did all three things to excess. I became the “fat kid.” I loved ice cream and we had a freezer, my mom limited me to one bowl of ice cream a day… so when she wasn’t looking I got out a soup bowl. Many of you have never seen a soup bowl but when soup was king there were larger bowls ( bigger than salad bowls) in most dish sets. And so I laid around , ate what ever I could find and gained weight although I must admit I wasn’t particularly svelte before that occurred.
I returned to school and kids being what they were and are I was at times made fun of because I was fat, short, and more importantly slow. I probably learned a lot from that. There was one girl in particular who made my days difficult, she was big, strong, and eventually became a great high school swimmer but in 5th grade she was the bane of my existence. She teased me unmercifully, verbally and one day I crept up behind her and to my shame “rabbit punched” her in the back of the neck. I probably had to use all 4 inches of my vertical leap to do so. She got hurt I got sent to the office and my recovery began. The principal of course was not happy about me hitting anyone but as part of the process of explaining myself to the principal I began to realize that by reacting I was losing and that rather than “ignorance being bliss,” perhaps ” ignoring might lead to bliss”. That becoming angry was losing, thinking of a solution was winning. In short acceptance of who and what I was and working from that basis was a much better solution than wishing I was someone else.
I learned to use my brain instead of my feet, although as I grew into my ” fat” my feet got just a little quicker as well. I got into sports and was at least average and played in high school until my thinking and at times uncontrollably attached mouth got me into trouble with two coaches leading me to spend much of my time my senior year sitting around. And yet I didn’t quit, even though at least one coach advised me to do so and proudly I even got to play 34 seconds of one game after being a starter the precious year, when the coach noticed that we didn’t have enough players on the field and grabbed the first one, who just happened to be me and threw him into the game.
In my perhaps warped perception not quitting made me a winner. I learned that I couldnt control what others did but I could control how I reacted to it, because my reaction was my decision. I was what I was and although I sometimes think of what I could have been the pain is lessened by the knowledge that I chose the path I followed.
So back to Popeye, If you accept who you are you can move forward with the understanding that you may never play the piano or be skinny, or be wealthy but when you die everyone will recognize your face because it’s your face not someone elses.
Don’t worry about things over which you have no control
Don’t worry about what you might be or might have been but think instead of what you may become if you only understand who and what you are.
Don’t worry about the perceptions of others, worry instead about your own self-perception
Repeat to yourself when you make mistakes or things spin out of your control, ” I am what I am and that is all that I am.” and because I know what I am I can improve my own reality not perception.
It also seems that Popeye was a lot smarter than most of us thought because when he said , ” I am what I am and that’s all that I am he was just paraphrasing Tennyson’s Ulysses; ”
…..that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Renewed by time and fate, still strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.