I think that today, I want to write about what it’s like to live in the freedom of who you are. A little heavy, I know.
Maybe it seems like I’m writing about a lot of serious stuff lately, and I’m sorry if that bores you as readers (it’s still weird to think that I have “readers”). But I feel I’m in a pretty important phase of my life. I’m almost done with my first year of college—a point I’m not sure I ever really expected to be.
I mean, I always knew I’d “go to college” but it seemed like a distant thing that happened to my older friends and people in movies. It’s a little hard to describe, but for related jumbled ramblings on this confused thought process, see my May 2009 column about high school graduation.
Anyway. Finishing freshman year. This marks four years that I’ve been writing this column. I went back and read my very first submission, and I was shocked to realize that I still think about the same things. Yes, college Abi is much different than high school Abi; I’ve matured a lot and grown immeasurably, but I’m the same at the core.
I still burden my thoughts with others’ perceptions of me. I still feel insecure and out of place and inadequate. I still just want to make people laugh. I’m still looking for acceptance and affirmation. I still fidget and ramble impressively quickly when I’m nervous. It seems like these are things that never really resolve themselves.
A really big thing that I’ve learned this year is that no one, not even the prettiest or funniest or smartest girl around feels completely comfortable in her own skin all the time.
I think there are moments when each and every person envies the way another can draw the attention of a crowd or deliver goofy stories with witty authority.
Because of uprooting myself from Hillsboro and plopping myself in the middle of a whole new world (go ahead, sing it. “A whole neeeeeew wooooorld”), I am no stranger to insecurities and doubts. But I’ve learned that, to a degree, some parts of life really do rely on “fake it ’til you make it.”
I can’t even count the times I’ve excused myself to the restroom just to take a few deep breaths and summon all the little rays of confidence that like to hide behind the clouds of self-doubt. Cliché and a little ridiculous? Maybe. Does it work? From what I’ve experienced, yes.
Here’s some advice. It’s blunt, but it’s good (or so I’d like to think). If you want to be a certain way…just be it. Like, today. Start making little changes right now. I’m not suggesting that anyone become someone he or she is not, but if you’re unsatisfied, change something small today.
For example, there were three girls in my class at North Park that I saw hanging out a lot first semester. They all seemed to be so comfortable in their own skin, so sure of who they were and what they liked and why they were here. I wanted to be their friend because they seemed too goofy, funny and of substance, and I was lonely and full of self-pity.
It took many a self-pep talk—“playing the positive tape,” as Mama Humber says—“You CAN do this, you ARE funny/smart/ pretty/interesting/worth someone’s attention/insert other desirable characteristic here, and if you don’t say hello and put yourself out there…etc”—but I did it.
I let myself be vulnerable and open in a new friendship—which is supposed to be scary, by the way—and now those three girls are my best friends at North Park. Intense, I know. Quite the success story.
I’m not trying to do a do-exactly-these-seven-things-and-you’ll-have-three-best-friends-in-two-weeks type of thing, but I wanted to share my experience in case it could be an encouragement to someone reading this.
Nobody is as confident as he or she seems, and it’s OK to feel like you’re on the outside…but you are the only one with the power to change that. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are beautifully and wonderfully made, and say, “Hi.” Just do it. One syllable. You really can do it.
Becky Steketee showed me this quote, and I feel like it embodies the message of this column—except, for the purposes of universality, feel free to expand its meaning beyond marriage.
Augusten Burroughs said, “I used to feel so alone in the city. All those gazillions of people and then me, on the outside. Because how do you meet a new person? I was very stumped by this for many years. And then I realized, you just have to say, “hi.” They may ignore you. Or you may marry them. And that possibility is worth that one word.”
As Mathew Brown often replies after one of my apparently cheesy pick-me-up text messages, “Thanks, Mom.”
But you know what? My mom is the one who gave me the advice I’ve given in this column, and I really love my mom. So I’m fine with that.