I regularly compare myself to an old lady. I drink tea, I wear a fuzzy bathrobe, and sometimes I even climb into bed before 10. For a while, I thought it was a little embarrassing. What kind of ninth grader would rather stay home, eat soup, and watch the Jane Eyre movie with her father than go to her first Homecoming Dance of high school? Or, maybe it was weird that I often chose to stay in pajamas doing homework rather than plan social outings for weekend nights. But at some point, I realized that it wasn’t that weird to do what I wanted to do, to just be myself.
It’s the biggest cliché in existence, but there is a reason why the “be yourself” mantra is so widespread. It’s true. In any high school environment, we face pressure to fit in, fear of what others think of you, and a perceived “right” and “wrong” way to be. But, cliché as it sounds, those external forces do diminish when we learn to be ourselves: to become self-aware, to embrace our own personalities, and to not change for anyone else.
For a while, I thought that the stereotype of a happy high school student is an extroverted social butterfly, someone who goes to parties and experiments with their newfound freedom so they can look back and regard those four years as some of the best of their lives. Judging by those parameters, I was certainly not a happy high school student. But the thing is, I was, so the stereotype couldn’t have been that accurate or all-encompassing. I loved coming to school every day. I loved my friends, I loved my teachers, and I feel bittersweet and nostalgic about the fact that I am now a high school graduate.
I didn’t always fit the typical high school mold, and by being okay with that I was allowing myself to be happy regardless of stereotypes. I was, by all accounts, the nerd. I was intense and serious about school, and I never missed assignments, I never went out unless my workload was under control, and sometimes my friends would nickname me the “mom” of the group. That’s me; my personality, my work ethic, and embracing that instead of trying to morph into someone different is, I think, what helped me find success and happiness in school. Because I also realized this: when you’re confident about who you are, other people embrace that, too.
I will always remember an activity I did at school as one of our 18 Senior Peer Group Leaders. We seniors were chosen to lead and teach the freshman class as they transitioned to high school, and part of our leadership training was intense group bonding among the 18 seniors. We each received a sheet of paper and wrote on the back how we thought others perceived us, listing qualities both good and bad. Then, we flipped the sheet over and walked around the room, writing how we perceived each other on each person’s sheet of paper.
On the back of my sheet, I wrote that other people probably perceived me as a nerd, someone quiet and introverted. But when I read what other people had written about me, I was touched and surprised. They wrote that they respected my work ethic, appreciated my involvement at school, and were enjoying the chance to get to know me. It made me realize that we’re hardest on ourselves. We may not even realize how much someone appreciates our unique personality traits. Maybe we inhibit our own confidence by doubting ourselves, putting ourselves into boxes, or assuming that we are only perceived in a one-dimensional light. Realizing this, and then making the effort to let others know us for who we are, is all part of being self-aware, which, at least I believe, is something we need to be happy.
I should have written this disclaimer at the beginning, but I do not have any real answers. I talk about being self-aware, or confident, or happy, or nerdy, but that’s all just my musings based on my own experiences. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of person I’ll be, and I’m sure college will present another slew of situations and choices that allow me to define my personality, my goals, and my beliefs. But as for now, I know this: I was a nerd, and I was okay with it. My idea of fun might be baking a pie with my mother or staying in for a movie night with my best friends. I didn’t feel the full pressure of stereotypes in high school, but that’s because at a certain point I made the decision to not let myself. I was happy with who I was, and that’s all I could really ask for.