All my life, I have been told to "just be myself". And all my life, I have been confused as what to that meant.
What is being myself?
What even is that?
What does "being yourself" even mean?
I act different when I'm alone.
I act different when I'm with friends I really like.
I act different when I'm at a party.
I act different when I'm with people that annoy me.
And among all of these, what is "being myself"? Are these all right? Is only one right and the rest are wrong? Should the way I act when put in all of these situations be the same? Is there a "right" way and a "wrong" way of acting?
Right now, I'm a junior in high school and I think it's the first time I think I can partially answer these questions.
In retrospect, "be yourself" was a good piece of advice poorly phrased.
I've grown so much these past few months.
It's mostly because junior year is academic and social hell.
I've been challenged more than I've ever been, I've had very high points (and very low points), I've been on the brink of quitting more times I would like to admit, and as a whole, I've taken one giant leap out of my comfort zone.
And I also finally started to accept myself.
Self-acceptance is hard.
I think that it is part of our nature to be insecure. We will always compare ourselves to other people who we perceive to be "better" than us. We'll always look at the track star, or the student who takes four APs, or the boy who stars in the school play, or that person who's well liked among everyone and think, "Wow, why can't I be like them?"
And it doesn't end there.
The track star can compare herself to the other track star who beat her at an event and think she's not good enough.
The student who takes four APs can look at the person who takes five and wonder why he can't be like her.
The boy who stars in the school play will blame himself for not being able to sing as well as the other boy who starred in the musical.
The girl who's well-liked among everyone might be jealous of the boy next to her who gets A's on math tests when she gets handed back C's.
I used to place confident people on a pedestal. I thought they were better than me because they seemed like they had their life together and they just succeeded at everything they attempted.
This made me feel inferior, like I was defective or something was wrong with me. Why couldn't I work harder, why couldn't I succeed as much, and why couldn't I succeed on the same scale as these people did?
This inferiority ate away at me like rot eats through wood. This nagging sense of inferiority would be with me wherever I went and wherever I looked.
Why can't I be as smart as him? Why can't I be as good at music as him? Why can she write better papers than me?
And it didn't matter who it was. I compared myself to everyone, from my best friends to complete strangers.
Why can't I be as funny as him? Why can't I walk with as much confidence as him? Why can't I dress as nicely as her? Why isn't my skin as nice as hers? Why do I always have to work harder than everyone? Why does she have better teeth than me? Why am I not as easy to talk to as her? Why am I not as approachable as him? Why don't I do as much community service as him? Why don't I get invited to as many parties as they do?
I desperately sought validation from something, anything to confirm that I was good enough. I would try to put on an tough act to pretend that nothing was wrong,
even though I was slowly and steadily falling apart on the inside. My friends and family were (and still are) always here for me, and they're the only reason why I was able to get out of this destructive downward spiral.
They helped me make the realization that we are all insecure.
Everyone. Even the person who seems the most self-assured and who radiates confidence has things to be insecure about. Everyone struggles with something.
And just like that, people were taken off pedestals and everyone became human again.
Self-acceptance is hard.
True self-acceptance is accepting yourself wholly and completely. Not just the parts that you put on Facebook or the things that you're proud of.
It includes the things you bury deep down. You also have to accept your insecurities, fears, resentment, hatred, regrets and jealousy. You have to accept that they're there.
But through this acceptance, you're able address them. You can now come to terms that you're insecure. You can come to terms that you're scared, you're resentful, you're malicious, you're regretful and you're jealous. But now that you see these and they're brought up to the surface through acceptance, you can actively try to reduce their potency instead of shoving it deeper and deeper down to try and ignore their presence.
And I think that after this self-acceptance, all the puzzle pieces will start to fit together and you can begin the process of finding yourself.
Although I haven't quite figured out what "finding" yourself entails, right now I think it has something to do with exercising your potential without being restricted by your own self-inflicted barriers such as inferiority.
I don't know yet, but I'll try get back to you in twenty years.