I recently had a young girl cry as she told me that no matter how hard she tries, she will never be like the girls in her school – that when she looks in the mirror, all she can see is how she stands out. It would’ve been easy for me to write this off as temporary teen angst in my personal life. I could’ve easily assured her that her differences are what make her beautiful. Wearing my counselor hat, though, I connected with that feeling of loneliness. I dug within myself to relate to her, allowing me to see that her “standing out” is equivalent to being not good enough. It’s easy to forget those feelings as we get older and our worlds grow bigger, but right now, this is her entire life.
Middle school feels like another life to me. High school is now a distant, irrelevant memory – it’s almost funny to me how deeply I felt it defined me. The me in school is a different person than who I’ve grown into. I’ve traveled literally across the world multiple times, embracing all of the organic cultures, each venture gaining more life knowledge than I could’ve ever learned in school. I discovered myself stepping off of a plane in a small African village, then again in a café in London, then again on a bridge in Poland. I left that insecure girl somewhere at the airport, and I’ll never go back for her.
I can remember, though, what it felt like to be in this sea of judgment, hypocrisy, lack of understanding, and unattainable standards. I never felt like I belonged anywhere when I was in school, so I tried to fit in; the makeup I was wearing and the clothes I was buying simply provided me a mask that I used in my effort to conform to those around me. Okay, I do have to admit that the fake nails made me feel fierce. I felt like my most of my friendships were shallow and lacked authenticity. I can remember the deep pain I felt when rumors were started about me and the false perceptions of me that people held onto and for whatever reason couldn’t let go of.
I was so convinced that life ended after high school that I grasped onto what I could. After I walked that stage, packed up all my things, and moved off to college, I had this huge identity crisis. The mold I was trying so hard to squeeze myself into quickly slipped from my fingertips. I cut off all my hair, had a different clothing style every day of the week, cut some ties with a few people that didn’t have my best interest in mind, and I found myself frantically searching for an identity that I hadn’t yet developed outside of my little bubble of expectations.
Now, it’s easy for me to look back and regret living for others’ expectations rather than living authentically. I have to remind myself that it’s all part of the journey. Every experience offers us a chance to grow. Because of this, we have the opportunity to be in a constant state of evolution. If you’re stagnant and simply conforming to what’s around you, you’re denying yourself the beauty of increasing your self-awareness, deepening your overall state of being, and the opportunity to expand your world. I know I’ll never be done growing and learning what I’m capable of, and none of that depth would be achieved if I stayed in my comfort zone. It’s often the scariest or painful things that shape us, push and even propel us if we allow them to rather than viewing them as some negative setback.
Embrace the scary. Embrace the pain. Be malleable. Get lost, and find your true, authentic self.