When I was six years old we went to Hawaii for a family vacation and stayed at a magical resort where my parents honeymooned, the Coco Palms. Most nights, the resort hosted entertainment in the dining room, and I was always eager to go watch. My favorite show had hula dancers and traditional Hawaiian music. One of the hula dancers was named Leilani, and from the moment I saw her dance, I was enchanted. I fell in love with her beauty and grace… and her name. It was so exotic, and so WAY cooler than my name, Melissa.
Shortly after returning from our trip, I decided that I didn’t want to be me anymore. My life was boring and dull. Everything about Hawaii was vibrant and interesting. I wanted THAT life. I wanted to be Leilani. I figured that if I was more like her, I would be happy… and cool. So, I made my friends call me Leilani, and every day I pretended I was a hula dancer by wearing a muumuu, dancing the Hukilau, and practicing poi ball routines. I even went so far as to tell anyone who would listen that my parents had agreed to let me permanently change my name from Melissa to Leilani. Looking back, I’m sure that everyone thought I was ridiculous, but I didn’t care. In my six year old mind, transforming myself into Leilani was easy. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a bit Hawaiian or that I lived in Minnesota. If I renamed myself, and worked really hard at imitating what I remembered about Leilani, I knew could really be her.
My parents supported my daily fantasies, but as time passed, my friends didn’t. Kids stopped calling me Leilani, and after a couple of weeks, no one wanted to play hula dancer anymore. I was upset at first, but to be honest, I was also tired of trying to convince everyone that I wasn’t Melissa. It surprised me that being Leilani wasn’t as easy (or as cool) as I had thought it would be, and I was bored of playing hula dancer every day. I wanted to pretend to be other people, too, and… well… being Leilani got in the way of any other games. One day I decided not to wear my muumuu, and play something else. No one really noticed. Well, maybe they did, but no one said anything to me.
Looking back now, I can say that I learned quite a bit about myself by pretending to be someone else. I learned that my imagination was a magical and powerful force that could transform me into anyone I wanted to be. I learned that it took daily practice and determination to hone new skills (poi balls are fun, but sometimes pretty painful). Most importantly, though, I learned that you can’t make others think you are cool if you don’t think you are. You have to believe you are cool, and then the rest works itself out.
I’ll admit, I sometimes still call myself Leilani… usually when I have to choose a name for on-line games or family game nights. Donning that name guarantees a smile from everyone, and it makes me feel beautiful and playful… and magical.
Message of the day: Sometimes trying on different personas helps you to identify what you value most about your true self. Don’t think that you aren’t “cool enough” as you already are. Embrace the real you. You are amazing.