Looking forward when I should’ve been looking back

Special. Unique. Quirky. Individual. Peculiar. Different. 

All words you can use to describe literally everyone, yet simultaneously words that don’t describe anyone at all in the sense that we’re all the same. It’s a big, contradicting paradox that doesn’t need to be sat on for too long, but it’s one that has sat with me my whole life; the difference, yet similarity, between every existing person. 

Me? I like to think I’m different. But, let’s be real – I live in a suburban area, have a relatively normal lower-middle-class family, had a general upbringing, and am not suffering from any kind of disease or disorder nor am I pursuing some crazy dream I’ve had since I was six. To put it simply, I am simple, which makes wanting to be somebody in the world pretty difficult. 

We all have an idea or a vision of the person we want to be when we grow up. Some people saw themselves settling with a family and a stable job, while others envisioned their future to be grand and eccentric, and then there were those that just wanted to be independent. I always just wanted to be someone that people admired. 

For as long as I could remember, I’ve always been a bit of a people pleaser. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the lack of attention I was given as a kid or maybe if it was just my inner diva wanting to be recognized by my peers (most likely the latter), but I always craved praise from others. I talked loudly to be heard, I made jokes to be seen, I did things like listen to Justin Beiber voluntarily and waste my money on those weirdly shaped rubber band bracelets all in favor of being, well, favored. 

I had built my entire personality around making people like me. 

As expected, this behavior followed me into middle school where I pretended to actually enjoy ‘alternative bands’ like Pierce the Veil or Black Veil Brides when I would’ve much rather been listening to literally anything else.

And then, of course, high school came along.

It dawned on me that in a place full of people trying to stand out in a crowd, I would inevitably fall behind. I tried to find something I was good at that would earn me praise, but I always just found myself to be mediocre at everything. I could free-hand a portrait, but it was always too basic. I had the ability to write a detailed five-page essay in the short time span of maybe two days, but I doubted anyone actually cared about how good I was at writing. I could name almost every celebrity in any big Hollywood blockbuster, but I’m pretty sure that was more of an unhealthy obsession than a talent. And, yes, I was on the varsity competing theater team, but it took me years to become at least half-decent at acting. It wasn’t until attention was drawn to my academic achievements that I thought I’d actually found something noteworthy about myself. 

I’d been deemed good-not-great for most of my life, so when my parents, teachers, and counselors began to point out the potential I had to be able to skip a grade, I took the opportunity and ran with it. By my second year of high school, I was able to skip my junior year and had gotten accepted to not only my first choice university but the Honors Program. Everyone I knew congratulated me on my accomplishments of getting accepted to my dream school at just sixteen years old and how I’d be traveling on my own out of state to a university for four years at seventeen. I felt accomplished. But I guess something changed these last few months. 

It’s been quiet these last few weeks. I’ve sat back and watched the world lock itself away and it’s given me some time to reflect on not only myself but my life choices and my future. 

I have 44 days left in my high school career and it hit me full-on just how much I missed. I took online classes instead of attending my junior prom or homecoming. I applied to any and every scholarship and grant beneath the sun instead of spending time with my friends and family. Choosing to devote three years of my high school career to being in a theatre class because of my friends instead of joining the newspaper sooner than I did. Pretending I enjoyed certain things to be accepted by others when I could’ve just been myself the whole time.

There’s always that one question seniors get asked; if they could tell their past selves anything, what would it be?  I think I finally have my answer: disappointment is inevitable. You can’t stop people from feeling or not feeling a certain way about you, but that’s okay as long as you’re content with who you are. It’s taken me longer than it should have to realize that.

Maybe I don’t need to go to a four-year out-of-state university my first year out of high school, maybe I didn’t have to graduate a year early, or maybe I never had to try to be someone I wasn’t in favor of being someone people could praise. 

So, I sign off as someone I can be proud of. It may not be some dramatic exit with epic background music as the final curtain closes and I bow to a crowd cheering my name (though, the theater kid in me would be pretty happy with that ending). But I know now that it doesn’t have to be dramatic. It just has to be 100%, unfiltered, and unapologetically me, because as I mentioned before, I am a pretty simple person.


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