A couple of months ago in one of my classes, we were told to identify the people around us based on our first impression of them, according to colors and their given explanations. For those who are curious, or want to self-identify, here is the rainbow as far as I can remember it:
Red is driven, outspoken, confrontational, and high-achieving.
Orange is funny, outgoing, silly, and confident.
Yellow is bubbly, energetic, smiley, and excitable.
Green is trendy, thoughtful, cultured, and deep.
Blue is chill, approachable, willing, and aware.
Pink is classy, charming, kind, and put-together.
I always have a hard time with these sorts of things – personality tests, leadership quizzes… anything that seems to force all of my decidedly ever-changing, mood-swinging, extraordinary special-ness into a unsatisfying, seemingly limiting box. I think most people hate these sorts of things, these labels, because they tend to make us feel like we can’t be everything, or that we really aren’t that special after all: we’re all just shades of orange and types of blue. And, for some reason, this concept of collectivity defeats us. For, though our middle school selves get caught up in a superfluous quest to “be normal,” most of us end up wanting to “be different.” Once we get over the anxious thought that it’s strange to stand out, we’re greeted with this overwhelming pressure to prove ourselves special somehow. This pressure often pushes us down the other side of that hill, dumping us into a sort of comparison despair: Which color am I? Can I not be all of them? If I truly am just one color, doesn’t that mean that someone else must be another? Did you say she is red, too? So, we’re both out here trying to paint the town red? But, her red is brighter than mine. And her brush is bigger than mine. And she’s been painting for longer than I have. With her in the rainbow, there’s no way I can be red. Maybe I’m not red, after all. Maybe I’m just gray.
I turned to look at the peer to my left, cocked my head to the side, and squinted an eye – like a painter examining her canvas before deeming it a masterpiece – “pink,” I declared. Her face brightened, awakening her smile, “aw, thank you! I thought so, too.” With satisfaction, I turned to the student to my right and pressed a finger to my lips, “blue,” I announced. “Really?” she questioned, “I always saw myself as more of an orange…” Pink chimed in, “no, she’s right. Definitely blue.” “Huh,” Blue sighed with a slump, but then perked up almost immediately as though the color we painted her had just become her favorite, “Blue, it is!” The Yellow sitting in front of me whipped around, “Lucy, tell them I’m a red. I’m totally red!” she asserted. “I don’t know… because I know you, I would definitely say red. But, if we’re talking about first impressions, I’d agree that you’re a yellow.” “Ugh!” she exclaimed, “But, I want to be a red!” “I mean, of course you’re red,” I assured Yellow, “we all can be each of them.” “I’m not yellow though—you’re yellow,” Yellow contested. “Uhh.. no. Lucy is 100% green,” added Blue. “What?!” exclaimed Pink, “I always saw her as an orange!” Fuck. I’m Gray— I always knew I was Gray! And to think I could be some bright and special color… but no, I’m just Gray. “Guys, what’s Lucy?” Yellow prompted our eavesdroppers. “Pink!” someone shouted, “No, RED!” demanded another. I turned to my friend, a Blue, “what do you think?” I asked. “I really don’t know…” she said, visibly struggling, “at first I thought green, but now I’m thinking blue?” At this point, I was stuck facilitating this grand, unresolving identity crisis when a Pink in the front row turned around and assured me, “Lucy, you’re the whole rainbow.”
When it comes to confidence, like most every other trait, to embody it is a choice completely contingent on your perspective. For some, labels can feel like an ultimatum: a yellow begging to be a red. For others, labels are forms of affirmation: a perfectly pleased pink. And for those in between, labels don’t feel like they apply, at all: a disillusioned rainbow, convinced she is a raincloud. Over the years I’ve learned (the hard way) that, in moments of self-doubt, it can be important to frame your self-image comfortably, meaning, in a way that makes you feel special despite comparison. In this way-too-far-stretched analogy, this means choosing to view yourself as a distinct type of color that the wheel otherwise lacks, and awarding yourself the responsibility of painting the world your shade of beautiful; it doesn’t really matter which color you’re painting, so long as you’re content with your masterpiece.
For, we are, indeed, all just shades of orange and types of blue—but our uniformity does not detract from the fact that each one of us is surely someone’s favorite color. What matters most is how you choose to see yourself. Yellow, if you believe you are Red, call yourself Red; for all I know, your red is my yellow. Other people will always view you according to their own palate and there is no way to ensure that each impression you give lies within the lines of your designated stripe in the rainbow. There’s no point in comparing colors. Someone will always be a bluer blue and, when we realize this, we’re too often inclined to paint ourselves Gray. The point, rather, is to focus on the marks we leave and the masterpiece those strokes create. And the hope is that when we step back, cock our heads to the side, squint an eye, and examine ourselves as a canvas, we've somehow ended up with a rainbow.