Be who you are

I was homeschooled almost entirely from first grade through eight grade, after which my parents decided to send me to a private Christian school. I arrived on campus as the biggest dork imaginable. I still parted my hair, because that’s what I had done since I was five or whatever. Why would I stop? I have flashes of nightmares where I imagine myself wearing tapered high-water jeans, but maybe it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t good.

The bad fashion is just funny in retrospect, but I wasn’t just dorky, I was geeky. Over the course of freshman year, I joined the math club, the chess club, matchwits, and spent most or all of my time hanging out with people with similar interests. I was taking math and science classes with juniors and seniors, and I was proud of the fact that I was always reading a book about physics or 3D game programming or something equally nerdy.

However, during the summer between freshman year and sophomore year, I came to the realization that what I was doing wasn’t “acceptable” by the standards of high school politics. I wish I could remember what the catalyst for my realization was, but it probably related to girls somehow. Anyway, I embarked on a mission to remake myself. I stopped parting my hair, got some better clothes, etc. That part was probably good, but I also stopped being involved in the geeky clubs. And most regrettably, I stopped hanging out with certain people because I felt like they would be a drag on my newfound social ambition.

Even as I write this almost fifteen years later, I cringe at the shallowness of those decisions. I don’t think I was ever mean or anything to anyone, it was more just a gradual distancing and maneuvering to hang out with more “popular” kids.

I regret it because it was unfair to those people, and also because I really enjoyed the math club, and chess club, and matchwits. And I really wish that I had stayed involved in those things and taken a leadership role later in high school, and gone to a better college. In the end, I had a few more friends, but I hurt my long-term future and I probably hurt other people. And for what? So I could go to a few stupid high school parties?

These lessons are particularly applicable in the high school years, but even as an adult, social politics and games are an ever-present part of life. There’s a constant pressure in some circles to be a certain way, act a certain way, live a certain lifestyle. Ignore all that. Figure out who you are, what you want, and just go do it. Forget the world and their expectations of you. Life is way too short, and your true friends will support you in what you want to do, no matter how geeky it is.

PS – And if you were one of those dorky kids in high school who realized all this early on and refused to change for other people’s expectations, you have my undying admiration. I wish I’d had the courage and self-realization to just be who I was.