Actually, I suspected my classmate Dick made all of it up because – upon receiving a compliment – my first impulse is to negate it. “This old thing?” “No, I haven’t lost weight, I’ve gained.”

"I'm nervous and high-strung!"
“I’m nervous and high-strung!”

Of course, not everybody regards the qualities Shelly allegedly attributed to me as compliments. In retrospect, “nervous” and “high-strung” sound unhealthy and problematic. “Intense” was my favorite word. I don’t know how universal the desire to be “intense” is, but to me it seems more interesting than mild or calm. “Conscientious” was flattering but I was too secretly slothful for it to apply to me.

"I'm intense and conscientious!"
“I’m intense and conscientious!”
 All my life, I’ve struggled with owning “ambitious”. My Midwestern Lutheran brain conflates it with greedy and ruthless. Anyone who attended Bible school knows the meek will inherit the earth. Ambitious and meek don’t go together.
"I'm ambitious but that doesn't make me a bad person."
“I’m ambitious but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”

When I was younger, I tried to hide my ambition. It seemed incompatible with feminine or being a good person. However, I’ve changed my mind. Ambition isn’t inherently “bad” – it depends on how far you’re willing to go to realize your ambitions. When ambition functions as a driving force – a means of powering the passion required to realize a dream – I think it’s a gift.