Oh the early teenage years. They’re kind of beautiful in how universally awkward and brutal they are to each sojourner who navigates them, right?
Maybe they’re not so bad for others, but the mistaken lesson I feel that I learned at that time was this: Being yourself is a dangerous endeavor.
This is when I came to really understand how much others’ opinions can impact my life–for good or not so good.
I was a weird kid. Most definitely a nerd, and I really struggled to fit in with most other guys my age. I had some friends, but I always felt an internal struggle to gain more and to impress them more, and to fit more readily into the crowd.
Sometimes, though… I would let go of that. I would actually get comfortable and be the real me. I would be the goofball that I am.
It was fun! It was exciting. It could be liberating.
But … alas, other people didn’t always get it. I got teased, at times I felt shunned, and I began muting many of my more eccentric and fun traits to appease others. I began living a rather censored life.
Self-censorship is a seemingly insidious, inconspicuous evil nearly all of us encounter. It’s when we hide our inherent beings behind our fear of others’ opinions.
It’s very much a contributor to sadness as it is essentially each of us telling ourselves that our true selves are not good enough and are shameful.
Yes, tact is important in its turn. There’s a time and place for holding back on doing and saying whatever randomness might come to mind. That aside, I know from experience that consistently hiding your true self can lead to some serious pain, and even caused me some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.
Were my abiding those early teenage years summarized in some out-of-time micro-missive, the note the scrawny, awkward Jeff from these years would pass to the current Jeff would read: “JUST BE THE REAL YOU.” (It would probably also feature some weird drawing or doodle.)
If there’s something I’ve learned from those early teenage years, it’s that looking at the times I spent sad and cloistered then compare very disagreeably to the times I’ve more recently spent being the real me. A me who’s open to new and different, and (most importantly) honest with himself.
My peers can think I’m weird, different, lame, stupid, awkward, weak, misguided, or downright uncool, but it doesn’t have any real power. There’s no real danger in fighting for the true being you are and the true being I am. And if there is danger in that fight… it’s probably still worth brooking to earn the self-respect and joy that comes with flagrantly being you.
Or something like that.