“I am terrible at the things I love and great at the things I hate.”
I spoke these words to my dad years ago but he is always quick to remind me that it’s one of my greatest quotes… I think I finally understand why.
The continual reminder of this this statement has forced me to change the way I perceive myself. I feel as if I have lived a majority of my life attempting to be things I wasn’t or to force my motives as an act of pleasing others. Maybe it is because I never felt attached to my family due to a broken home life or because I wanted them to be proud of me. Because of this, in my more recent years, I have attempted to squeeze myself into clichés based on the person I want to be rather than the person I am. As absurd as it sounds, I did not feel comfortable until I realized my idol has always been, in fact, Leonardo. Not the artist. The Turtle.
Most people in the US are taught to think as individuals, to find their own identity. I have come to find that this thinking has only hindered my own individual progress. Out of college, I ran into a major identity crisis (which you can read about in my article “Finding The Rails”). I didn’t know who I was supposed to be or what I was meant to become. After much unresolved deliberation over the idea of my final life goal, I decided that I needed to take a step back. I needed to focus on who I was rather than who I wanted to become. Only then would I be able to feel comfortable in myself and have an anchor for resolve during those moments of confusion. But what would I base this cliché on? What corner would I willingly choose to back myself into? Books? Movies? TV shows? No. Instead I decided on my life long heroes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
For as long as I can remember, I grew up watching the original TMNT cartoon, collecting the action figures, buying the Burger King edition tapes, and obsessing over the video games. They were all I cared about. Sure I played with LEGOs and loved my Sega Genesis but nothing compared to getting a new TMNT action figure. I can remember my TMNT VHS tapes beginning to weather due to prolonged use to the point that VCR tracking was of no use. Like every other kid born in the mid-80s, I loved role-playing as the TMNT with the other kids on the street. I was always Raphael. Little did I know, this would be a critical choice in the years to come. After my early elementary-school days, some of my classmates introduced me to Star Wars and I began to leave the TMNT universe behind. This would also have a profound impact on my childhood development.
As I progressed through elementary, middle, high school and college, I fell under the notion that the Star Wars universe was the epitome of geekdom and while it had become extremely important to me, I became very aware of it’s cost on my social life. Addicted to positive attention from the “popular” kids, I decided that I would table my obsession for Star Wars and video games and focus on what I thought would be cool: skateboarding and music. I came to find that these were, in fact, not the cool things I’d hope they would be. These were not football and beer. I tried my hardest to fit in. I even tried out for the football team only to quit before tryouts even finished. Don’t get me wrong. My social skills were fine-tuned so I was able to keep a strong social connections with the “popular” kids, it just never felt right.
Thanks to a close friend of mine from the “nerdy” scene, I picked up a bass guitar and joined a local “punk” band where I discovered my deep obsession for music and my quest to find the perfect song. Along with this discovery, I learned that most of the kids I began to hang around with were also obsessed with Star Wars and video games, the same nerdy things I was into but had been hiding at the sacrifice of my own popularity. I began to take comfort in this new collective of punks, geeks, and nerds. They were the outsiders. They were the ones I always saw getting picked on but knew would turn out to be the successes of my generation. I saw an opportunity. While I was now immersed and accepted in this nerd culture, I realized that I had never burned the bridges with the popular kids; the football players and cheerleaders. I, as well as my fellow bandmates, began to weave in and out of these factions. While mostly performed through our subconscious and AP classes, we seemed to have bridged the gap and ended the war between the “jocks” and the “geeks.”
Alas, high school ended and with new territory for everyone to conquer. As the story goes, most of the “jocks” either joined the military or stayed around the small town, working tiny jobs and having kids with the cheerleaders, while the nerds went off into a more prestigious direction, advancing to well-known colleges and excelling in things like physics or computer science. Myself? I left home and headed for the University of California, Irvine where I graduated college with a B.A. in Political Science fixated on the idea that I was going to peruse teaching the subject. Come to my surprise, my plans decided to disappear from underneath me not much longer after graduation.
I had no idea what to do with my life, who I wanted to be or, if I had the slightest clue, how I would get there. I panicked. Luckily, I found temporary solace in a job at an Apple Retail store. I came to find that the people I now worked with were exactly like me: nerds, punks, and geeks; this was the family I had been searching for since I left home! And, like a diamond in the rough, I found the love of my life amongst this new crowd. As fortunate as all of this was, it brought on a new problem: these people knew what the hell they were doing with their life; they would be able to support their loved ones while excelling in their passions. All of the sudden, I didn’t feel like I fit in anymore. I wanted to become one of these people. Some were nerds who knew they were nerds and always wanted to be nerds. Some were leaders who knew they were leaders and always wanted to be leaders. Then, something clicked. I could easily pigeonhole these people. They were characters from the TMNT, my original first love. As unique as they were, they were cookie-cutter images, something that had always been frowned upon when I was a child… and I wanted to be one.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter Two of ‘The Nerdist Way’ by comedian and author Chis Hardwick:
“According to part-time truth seeker Wikipedia, “Alignment is a categorization [sic] of the moral and ethical perspective of the player characters.” In other words what do you stand for? Knowing which way your moral wiener points can be very helpful when faced with tough decisions.”
Chris goes on to describe the Alignment categorizations of the Dungeons & Dragons game. The following are sourced from Wikipedia and refer to the 2nd and 3rd editions of the game:
- Lawful Good: The “Saint” or “Crusader” alignment. Typically acts with compassion, and always with honor and a sense of duty. (Batman/ Dick Tracy/Indiana Jones)
- Neutral Good: The “Benefactor” alignment. Guided by his/her conscience and typically acts altruistically, without regard for or against Lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. (Zorro/Spider-Man)
- Chaotic Good: The “Beatific,” “Rebel,” or “Cynic” alignment. A Chaotic Good character favors change for a greater good, disdains bureaucratic organizations that get in the way of social improvement, and places a high value on personal freedom, not only for oneself, but for others as well. (Robin Hood, Starbuck, Malcom Reynolds)
- Lawful Neutral: The “Judge” or “Disciplined” alignment. A Lawful Neutral character typically believes strongly in Lawful concepts such as honor, order, rules and tradition, and often follows a personal code. (James Bond, Odysseus, Sanjuro)
- True Neutral: The “Undecided” or “Nature’s” alignment. This alignment represents Neutral on both axes, and tends not to feel strongly towards any alignment. (Lara Croft, Lucy Westenra, Han Solo)
- Chaotic Neutral: The “Anarchist” or “Free Spirit” alignment. A character of this alignment is an individualist who follows his or her own heart, and generally shirks rules and traditions. (Jack Sparrow, Al Swearengen, Snake Plissken)
- Lawful Evil: The “Dominator” or “Diabolic” alignment. Characters of this alignment see a well-ordered system as being easier to exploit, and show a combination of desirable and undesirable traits. (Boba Fett, Magneto)
- Neutral Evil: The “Malefactor” alignment. Characters of this alignment are typically selfish and have no qualms about turning on their allies-of-the-moment. (Mystique (X-Men), Sawyer (LOST))
- Chaotic Evil: The “Destroyer” or “Demonic” alignment. Characters of this alignment tend to have no respect for rules, other people’s lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel. (Carl Denham (King Kong), Riddick (Pitch Black))
A simplified version is used in the 4th edition of the game and may make it easier to identify an alignment:
- Lawful Good: Civilization and order.
- Good: Freedom and kindness.
- Unaligned: Having no alignment; not taking a stand.
- Evil: Tyranny and hatred.
- Chaotic Evil: Entropy and destruction
This excerpt spoke to me loud and clear. Before I was to decide what I wanted to become, I needed to figure out who I was. Only then would I be able to utilize my strengths to achieve the greatness I desired instead of getting bummed that I wasn’t already great at the things that interested me. This may seem like a backwards philosophy but allow me to explain.
Growing up, I loved Raphael. He was so cool and everyone dug him. However, later in life, I realized that as a child, I did not understand what he stood for. He was relatively used as a symbol of rebellion and chaos. I decided that of all the TMNT, Donatello would have become the most successful in the real world. He was the brainiac. While the outsider of the group, he never put up a fight with his brothers and was always looked to for his knowledge and intelligence. These qualities were most prominent in those people I looked up to the most. I wanted to be Donatello. I then would attempt to filter out what qualities of Donatello fit the work I would put out but found that no matter how hard I tried, I was never able to fit the mold like the others were. Sure, I was intelligent but nowhere near my idols. I dreamed of excelling in computer programming but had trouble understanding the syntax. I wanted to understand music on a higher level but struggled with tonality (it didn’t help that my best friend was a composition major and had perfect pitch). Like a toddler’s toy tool set, I felt like I was always trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I would always end up right where I started. I was confused and lonely; not sure of what I wanted to become let alone who I was.
I continued to mill around at my job, feeling sorry for myself that I would not amount to what I dreamed of becoming. I saw this hurting my relationship and hurting myself. I needed to reset.
I began to look at things from a different angle. I knew that I was good at seeing the potential in people and was able to quickly identify what made them happy. I began encouraging these people I looked up to professionally, tasking them with projects and feeding them ideas. I found that my co-workers, friends, and family began to come to me for professional and life advice. Not only did I realize I was capable of this, I actually enjoyed it! I began to feel empowered. I learned that I could utilize my skill of leadership and to help others utilize their strengths to help benefit the team as a whole. How was this not clear to me before? I was a leader!
Around this time, my girlfriend and I saw a little film called The Avengers. As I walked out of the film, I was awestruck by Captain America. All of the sudden, everything lined up. Like Captain America, I have always had a straight forward approach to my goals. I believed in my passions and stuck to them at all costs. And like Captain America, I didn’t have all of the bells and whistles or talents my colleagues and friends possessed but I could formulate plans, utilize their skills, and rally a team. Yes! This was it! I was… Leonardo?!
Not to divulge too much into TMNT geekiness, but Leonardo has always been the most loathed of the four Turtles. While he was a leader, he always came as a show off. This was the primary reason I always avoided selecting Leonardo as my Turtle of choice when role-playing as a kid. I now realize that he is the most misunderstood of the four Turtles. He was disciplined and always fought for what he believed in. He always knew the right path and guided his brothers in that direction. He was the TMNT equivalent of Captain America. These were all characteristics I could relate too. Initially, it was hard to accept but this was comfortable.
While this came as a bit of a shock for me, I decided to accept it. In my adult years, I admired Donatello. He was a brilliant and applied genius… but he was not me. From this point forward, when I get upset about not being able to do something or achieve what I want to achieve, I always look from a different angle. How can I utilize the talents and passions of others to help the collective achieve what they need to achieve while also fulfilling a sense of achievement in the people being utilized? How can I help others achieve their goals and encourage them to pursue their passions? As megalomanic as it sounds, people need leadership, just not for world domination or legacy’s sake. People need to be guided to make the best use of their talents and there needs to be people in the world to be that guiding force!
After I had discovered my alignment, I decided the next best thing I could do was share the discovery with others and write the editorial you are reading now. I encourage you to find that person or character that has always driven you. Not necessarily someone that you want to become but the person you best identify with. Look to comics, TV shows, books, video games, movies, teachers, family, and/or friends to help you find that character or person you also find yourself in. If you are still struggling, take an online alignment test at Wizards.com (please do not scoff at the nerdy reference) and figure out where you fit in the spectrum. As for Leonardo and I, we identify as Lawful Neutral. Good luck and I hope this helps you as much as it helped me.
Thanks to Chris Hardwick, Joss Whedon, Kevin Eastman, and Peter Laird for the influence and enlightenment!