When I was a teen, one of the only things I was proud of myself for was me being an individualist. I was comfortable with being different from everyone else and not taking the path that was expected of me. I embraced my uniqueness and saw it as a source of strength, instead of seeing it as a flaw. An “ordinary” life was not something that I wanted to have. I wanted my life to be one for the history books, and so I decided to take a chance. I wanted my journey to be extraordinary. I was counting on it.
I never saw myself as the typical American teenager. Sure, I took part in some of the traditions like Friday night football games, homecoming dances, yearbook, AP classes and prom, but they never gave me any real fulfillment. I always felt like an imposter in those situations, and usually found myself in the corners of many rooms, trying to feel comfortable. A part of me wanted to be more like my peers, but deep down I knew that I was just different. So I decided to break away from the pack and head in a different direction, one that fit my personality and needs the best. I became a voyagers in the unknown.
Looking back on that time in my life I have come to realize how free I was during those years. I was free from the confines of traditional high school and feeling the constant pressure to compete with my peers. I was free in my creative endeavors and taking chances in my work. My mind was expanded through the exposure to people, places and things that I never would have experienced if I remained in the same place.
Throughout my time as a teen and into early adulthood I found my uniqueness to be a source of strength. But more recently that feeling of strength has been replaced with a feeling of inadequacy. The negative thoughts in my head have told me that I messed up by choosing to be different, and that I missed out on too many universal experiences to be a normal person. I have started to believe that I am too different from other people and therefore cannot have a close connection with them. My mind has replayed over and over again all the choices I made on my journey to where I am now. My depression and anxiety have become unbearable at times, and I often wonder if my life has meaning anymore. The pride and joy that I once had for my differences have now been replaced with a sense of shame. I have lost the very core of who I am and no longer feel like I know who I am at all.
In response to this growing feeling of inadequacy I have begun to regress. I have tried to rewrite my memories and focus more on my participation in the usual experiences of being a teenager. I have tried to hide the parts of myself that are distinctly different form others and blend in better with the crowd. My differences are like a dirty secret that I don’t want anyone to find out about. I have done a complete 180 from the girl that I was growing up. The adult me wants to be just like everyone else.
Within the past couple of months I have been focusing on redeveloping that attitude and pride that I once had growing up. I no longer want to be ashamed of who I am and what makes me different. Instead, I want to treat it as my superpower. As I once believed when I was younger, my uniqueness can be something that I can use to change the world. Any person in history who has made a significant contribution to their time period was not someone who just followed along with everyone else. They stepped away from the crowd and forged their own paths to their destinies. Sure, most of the time they probably didn’t know exactly what they were doing and felt the pangs of loneliness, but they still persevered.
There is nothing wrong with me or anyone else and how we decide to live. We all have our own choices to make and we choose what we think is right at any given time. Yes, we may make mistakes, but ultimately even those mistakes make us who we are. Someone who chooses to be a little bit different from others should be celebrated and not repressed. And as someone who has chosen to do just that, I hope that one day another person can look back at my story and know that it’s ok to be different from everyone else. Nothing is broken or wrong with me. In fact, everything is just the way it’s supposed to be.