Love her or hate her, you gotta admit, it must be weird to be in Lena Dunham’s shoes. I can’t think of too many people her age whose every action and utterance is held up to such intense dissection. This has been happening since the very beginnings of Girls, when Dunham’s alter ego, Hannah, high, tells her parents “I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice, of a generation.” The now-infamous line garnered both positive and negative attention, but my personal reaction to it was “hipsterdom” personified (at least according to Louis CK) since all I could think was “Yeah, me too.”
I quickly recoiled, however. I didn’t really want to be the voice of my generation—that was too much responsibility and I have enough trouble keeping up with my laundry. What I did think was that I could be the gentle voice of reason—a soothing candlelit lavender bubble bath in a world of communal cold showers.
And I’d been through stuff and I learned stuff—I was going to inspire people’s pants off. I was going to be the Barry White of writing (since Mr. White’s music also often encourages pants removal). I was going inspire in a way that would make Oprah weep for days. Inspire in a way that would have gentle giant Tony Robbins admit “I have nothing to teach you, Erica.” Inspire with a capital “I.” But after a while, my words became overshadowed by that “I.” And therein was the problem: the desire to inspire others became less about others and more about me.
I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but writing or speaking to people in such a way that I hoped would positively influence them was a thin veil for my egotism. I wanted to help but there was also a part of me that wanted them to go back to their friends to tell them that something I said had completely altered the course of their lives. Ah, the Messiah Complex—the pathology that just keeps giving.
This is not to say that I have any issues with people who want to motivate others. I think that’s beautiful. It’s just that it seems to put the cart before the proverbial horse. To my mind, inspiring others should be accidental—the unwitting result of being honest with one’s self and communicating without intent. Writing, creating, doing anything, really, with the sole purpose of inspiring others can be self-defeating since it risks coming from an insincere place. I think people can see right through that—I know people have seen right through me. So I’m trying not to get caught up in how much my words might motivate people.
And while inspiring others would be cool, most of things I’ve said that my friends later told me they found moving were things I have no recollection of saying.
And while being the voice of a generation would also be cool, for now I’m happy with being a voice that’s less and less scared of itself.
Follow Erica on Twitter @ericaruthkelly.