It’s a Saturday in mid-May which means that students all across the northern hemisphere are busy graduating. Last year I celebrated my 20-year college reunion; this year I celebrate 25 years since I graduated from high school. Looking back, I have a lot of emotions and critique but only one major theme.
Boy, did that girl take herself seriously.
I spent most of my high school career pegged as the ‘smart kid’ and looking back at my top ten essay it is clear I carried it around as both a cross and a badge of honor. I picked the DesCartes quote “I think therefor I am” as my lead in and sanctimoniously described my enlighten point of view. I was so sure I had everything figured out. But don’t take my word for it, read it yourself.
The problem is that in high school I spent a lot of time wishing I was someone else. I wanted to be cute or popular. I wanted to be in student government or on the cheerleading team. I wanted boys to ask me out and girls to pick me first for Powderpuff football. Even when I graduated and went out into the world a part of me stayed stuck in the halls of high school desperately wanting to be someone else.
When we had our 10-year reunion I was still so focused on proving that I should have been something different that I let myself get sucked back into the drama. I showed up convinced I would be the prodigal daughter returned. Everyone would realize what a huge mistake they made because now I was pretty with a handsome husband and a beautiful baby. I’d graduated from two strong schools and had a great job. I was ready to be embraced and when I wasn’t I took it personally. I raged against imagined slights and rebelled against the very idea of reunion.
I’m not sure what happened or when, but at some point I realized that 13-18 year old kids all take themselves too seriously. Maybe it was having kids enter that age and seeing a bit of myself in them. Maybe it was finding some old artifacts of that time and looking at myself from a distance. Maybe it was just getting older and realizing that I like a lot of people now that I wouldn’t have been friends with then and asking the question: why?
Because I was taking myself too seriously, that’s why.
The girl I was then saw honest-to-God boundaries that couldn’t be crossed. In her mind they were as real as a wall or a barbed wire fence. There were consequences for wanting to be something you weren’t or stepping across a line where you didn’t belong. Serious consequences to reputation and happiness. In her mind at least, which was all that mattered.
Of course, that was all crap. It was manufactured seriousness to help kids get through the hard work of growing into adults. Now that I am taking myself less seriously, I’m open to reaching out to the women who had what I thought I wanted. They are warm, caring people. Strong fascinating women that I wish I had known better when we spent five days a week together. I am a better person now because of our friendships, even if it is limited to an IM chat or a phone call.
And taking myself less seriously is a lot more fun. I can laugh at myself and the silliness of the situations I find myself in. I’ve come to appreciate that empathy is more important than intellect. And, probably most important, I’ve learned to embrace the things that make me who I am and let go of wanting to be someone else.
I’m the smart girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it.