One of the things that I pride myself most on is my sense of individuality. I often take the road less traveled, and deviate from the choices that many of my peers make. It’s a kind of journey that sees more alone time than camaraderie with others, but that doesn’t mean that it is inherently a bad thing. In fact, for someone like me, it helps lead me to a greater sense of who I am and who I am not. Doing my own thing in life is a gift that I haven’t always cherished. But now, it has become one of my greatest strengths.
Even early on in my time on Earth, I was moving to my own unique rhythm that no one else seemed to understand. Having selective mutism and not being able to talk to the majority of people around me played a huge factor in this phenomena. But it wasn’t just that: I just liked to do things in my own way. I enjoyed being by myself more than I did around others. I didn’t need a big group of people around me to have fun. In fact, I actually felt much better when it was just me, myself and I. Books and my own vivid imagination were the playgrounds where I liked to become lost in. That’s where I felt most at home.
As I became older, I began to experience the ever too present peer pressure that comes as we grow up. Since I went to a small school (and I mean, like the smallest school ever), I knew that I needed to somewhat fit in if I wanted to survive. The part I was supposed to play seemed simple enough, so I gave it my best shot. For the most part it all seemed to work out, but deep down I knew that I was not and would never be 100% there. Even though it had become somewhat diminished over the years, my individuality still played a part in how I wanted to live my life (like I’m sure it does for everyone). My individuality just looked different from everyone else around me.
In my eighth grade year, my life went through a huge change, influenced by my own design. I transferred to a new school that was completely different from my old one, and was now thrust into a world that I had no bearings on. I was surrounded by kids, many of whom had grown up and just spent the whole summer together. To say that I was an outsider would be an understatement. I was the epitome of an outsider.
But instead of seeing this as something that needed to be fixed, I embraced my identity. I wanted to keep a low profile—I liked the idea of being a mysterious figure in a school filled with people who wanted to be noticed. I mainly kept to myself in the beginning, and for the most part everything seemed to be going according to plan. But then it happened again: I experienced the familiar pressure to be more like everyone else. I accepted the notion that in order to be happy, I had to be more like those around me. I had to play the same sports, go to the same parties, dress in the same clothes, and overall just lose myself in their version of what was normal. Going into high school, I felt like I had a plan on how to have the best typical experience. Little did I suspect that these plans would be changing rather quickly.
I’ll make the next part of my story as simple as possible by saying this: I did not like high school. Actually, I loathed the entire experience. When God created me, I’m pretty convinced that He put it in my DNA that me and high school would not mix well. Even to this day, at 24 years old, I don’t like going to any high school. There is no nostalgia for the “good old days” of roaming hallways, football games, or school assemblies. I should have might as well been an alien from my freshman year to my senior year.
So what do you do when you hate high school but are forced to go through it? Well…you get a little creative. And for me, that creativity I came in the form of me taking part in the PSEO program at Columbus State Community College (Go Cougars!)
You’re probably asking yourself right now: what is PSEO? Well, it’s an acronym that stands for Post Secondary Enrollment Option, and it’s a unique program that gives select high schoolers the chance to take classes at a local college and have credits count towards both their high school and college program. You can take some or all of your classes at the college, technically never really having to step back in your high school during normal hours. You can be 16 years old and blend in with the rest of the college students like a chameleon. It’s an option that can open up a lot of doors for students.
During my sophomore year of high school, I was separate to find a way out of my personal hell hole. I tried to convince my parents to let me transfer to a different school, but that was a no go from them. So I decided to get creative and find the best option for me. After some digging on the World Wide Web, I came across the PSEO program at Columbus State Community College (CSCC), and a new kind of hope began to burn within me. My escape route from high school laid right before me, and I decided to take a chance and head down that new path. The best part was, my high school would be footing the bill for all of my classes. So I got two years of college classes without having to pay a dime, and I no longer had to be tied down to a place that I hated to be in. For what felt like the first time, I was winning.
I started my time in PSEO during my junior year. My dad dropped me off at campus for my first 8 AM class, and I began a new adventure as an undercover college student. My first class was English—my favorite subject. By far I was the youngest one in my class, but I felt like I was still among peers. I felt a sense of independence that I never felt while confined to the hallways of high school. My body felt lighter from that time on.
Being in the PSEO program was a life-changing experience for me. At that time in my life it was my biggest act of doing my own thing. I wasn’t acting like the other kids who I wen tot high school with: as far as I knew, I was one of the few students taking part in the program. And while I was enjoying my time in college, I was not ignorant to the fact that doing my own thing had led me to a kind of loneliness. Most people see loneliness as being one of the worst things that a person can experience. It’s avoided at all possible costs. No one wants to go through it, but during my teenage years it was a common thread that I learned to deal with. And for the most part, I didn’t think too much about it. It was just a part of life, and I was living it the best I knew how.
Different can be a scary word for most. But as a teen, it was like an old friend for me. I prided myself on being different, and even now I still do. But there have been many times in the lat few years where I have obsessively thought back to that pivotal time in my life, and I wonder if I made the right decision in choosing to do my own thing. Many of my experiences are not the same as other people’s, and oftentimes in the back of my mind I begin to grow insecure about the dissimilarities. I start to feel less than and like an oddity. Being in my twenties, it’s already hard trying to discover who I am as a person, and feeling doubts about my younger self does not help to alleviate this tension. It becomes a cycle that I get lost in, eventually turning in to a spiral.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have a straight answer on whether or not I made the right decision to do my own thing back in high school. But it’s something that I’m learning to accept and live with. I may not have been a star athlete or gone to any wild high school parties, but I still got to take part in my own unique life adventures that shaped me into the person that I am today. My love and passion for writing flourished during this time, and I discovered a sense of power that came with sharing my work on blogs for everyone to see. I came across the peaceful art of tai chi, a practice that has come back into my life and now plays a major role going forward. Movies, books and art gave me the means to escape to places where I found myself. And I developed a deep sense of charity and spirituality by getting involved in service and volunteering organizations, mostly through my church.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, doing your own thing is not easy. Many times it may feel like you’re doing the wrong thing, and you start to wonder if you’ve made a mistake. But I encourage anyone who may be reading this and is up to the challenge to take a chance and see what happens in your life. If I hadn’t taken part in that PSEO program, more than likely I would have had the typical high school experience like many others. But in the end, I would have felt like I was merely faking my way through life and just following the crowd. Instead, doing my own thing led me to have a better understanding of myself and what I want out of life. And I only could have discovered that for myself by taking a leap of faith, and doing my own thing.