You Are Not A Question Mark.

Katherine Oostman
4 min readJun 22, 2015

It was Valentine’s day in a crowded cafe. I had an espresso doused in too much syrup. The sickly aftertaste was fitting for the day and my sappy state of mind.

My father leaned onto the table across from me, listening. His eyes moved back and forth across the air as if he was reading something no one else could see. I spilled my story. At the time, I was somehow content to override the security clearance alarm in my head blaring that a cliché had entered my stratosphere. A cute boy will do that.

“So, he texts you all the time, hangs out with you, but says he doesn’t want a relationship . . . ?”

The obvious question was emboldened and underlined in his eyebrows.

I scrambled to cover for the alleged male specimen. “But, he understands me. He’s the first guy who has challenged me more than I challenge myself. He’s creative, philosophical, brilliant, and . . ..”

My dad narrowed his eyes. “If he hasn’t been tripping over himself to have you, he’s two things: mentally retarded and not worth your time.”

“But . . .,” I began.

“No. It’s black and white. You are not a question mark. Ever. If he doesn’t see that, cut him loose. He doesn’t get the privilege of your time.”

The above dialogue should illuminate that my father is wise and that even the most strong, independent women can melt into puppy puddles every other lunar eclipse.

I was probably on my period — and it was Valentine’s Day; cut me some slack. I ate some chocolate and got over it.

Over the next few days, the greater meaning of my dad’s words began to sink in — and with them, my fierce self-confidence. Who did this boy think he was acting like a Katy Perry song? Furthermore, how many times have I let someone treat me like a “maybe” instead of a “definitely”?

It’s like a fungus, the placation of indefinites. We stand with our hands clasped in front of us, twirling our skirts idly, sad manifestations of the wall flowers of life.

Maybe I’m a good fit for that job.”

Maybe I’m the girl for him.”

Maybe I’m good enough.”


It’s like that feeling in class when a teacher asks something followed by a lingering uncomfortable silence. Think of the relief when someone answers. Remember the pride when that someone was you.

(Clearly, humans are flawed and unique. We’re not all good for everything. Use your judgment. Make sure the facts set you up for success and all that jazz.)

You were made for purpose. Not for “maybe”. You have ability, perspective, growth margin — and, as a result, possibility value. I’m not talking Oreo cookie, eat-and-it’s-gone value. I’m talking increased-worth-over-time gold value.

We live in a second-by-second based culture. No one reads a full article anymore (don’t get any ideas); so how in the world do you expect people to assess your worth accumulated via the collective years you’ve been in existence and quantify that value by the select hours they’ve known you while also utilizing senses outside of the radiation sphere that is your heart and mind to somehow arrive at an even remotely correct conclusion as to the richness of your being? Let alone how they fit into it!

After all, most people struggle to remember your name.

That means you have to do it. You have to become a declaration instead of a question. You’re the only one with the access to examine yourself deeply enough to know what that sentence should even be.

(Great. Now I’ve created self-obsessed monsters. This is why you have to finish my article.) Here is the grand slam of perspective. Ready? You may need to sit down:

All those people around you who are approaching you as a question mark because they have no way to get inside your soul and actually understand who you are — they are hoping you’ll treat them as a sentence instead of a blank space too.

Let me rephrase.

The indignation/hurt/anger/insignificance you feel at being glanced over as a “maybe” is felt by every single individual you encounter.

We’re doing it to each other. Because we can’t see deeper than the skin. We only have the superficial to base our assumptions. That’s why we approach each other as question marks. We’re leaving room for each other to answer with statements.

(Secret: None of us actually know anything about living on this planet. We’re all making it up as we go).

I’m tired of drifting in the silence after a question about my identity’s value. We have answers. And if we don’t, it’s time for an adventure to find one. Life is about discovery anyway — not about being a walking encyclopedia.

One final word of advice: as you go forth into declaring yourself to the world, be sure to write those statements in pencil. We’re not always right. We’re designed to change. And sometimes other individuals come along with a better answer than you had to begin with.



Katherine Oostman

My first movie was about the bubble apocalypse. It can only get better from here.