You Have Permission To Be Whoever You Want To Be

Jennifer Tweedie
Jennifer Tweedie

It’s my last day at home before driving down to Duke to begin freshman year. I’m sitting on the floor of my room with bits and pieces of my life splayed out around me—all the sentimental objects I usually keep stored in a shoebox under my bed. There’s my first cell, a hot pink razor flip phone that I half laugh/half cringe to think I’d wanted to bedazzle at one point. There’s the note of encouragement my friend Tory left in my locker the day my first boyfriend broke up with me: “He doesn’t like cheese-its, which is just plain weird, and I didn’t like the belt he wore that one time…” A picture from the junior powder-puff game, black warrior paint stripes dashed across my and Carolina’s cheeks. Perhaps these are all just things, but together they hold the essence of my pre-college self.

As I reminisce over the significance of each item, I am confronted with a new mystery:

What will I be adding to my box during my four years of college?

What influences will shape me… a girl with a set of morals and ideals that have never really been questioned or tested?

My senior year of high school had felt stifling and stagnant. Within me, other more jagged pieces were beginning to jut out, but the buds had been clipped back like hedges because they had not fit into the expectations placed upon me by my school community and family. They were pieces that didn’t, wouldn’t, fit in this box.

In that moment I realize that I no longer want to be defined solely by the contents of this box because not a single one of them is something I truly gave to myself. They are just what I’ve collected from others—certificates, letters, photos, awards. I look at my items, each holding such sentimental value, and can’t help recognizing that this shoebox is a mere receptacle of the feedback I’ve received dictating to me the good parts of myself to hold onto.

And that is all I was in high school.

I had not been me through just myself, I had been what I’d been granted permission to be. That is not to say I did not enjoyed the things I did or the opportunities that arose for me or the person I grew to be, but I never got to explore the alternatives. I never gave myself permission to make the mistakes I wanted to make or might have made regardless.

As my thoughts simmer around this new realization, a hope grows inside me that, in college, my box will hold more than a life that fits neatly into the square spaces on the Common App. I want to be more than the position I played in basketball, my role on Honor Council, my GPA, my 100 hours of community service.

I don’t want to have whittled the facets of my character down into puzzle pieces that fit together into one predictable identity. I want more jagged edges. I want to fragment my current self, so that my burgeoning curiosity can grow through the cracks. I want to stop feeling the need to create a purpose and meaning behind everything, to stop trying to tie each moment together as if it were supposed to make sense.

Because perhaps it isn’t meant to make complete sense.

Perhaps the goal is not to figure out how these stories and versions of myself fit together, but to welcome in the possibility that they are all me and they are all true. Today I promise myself: I want to be the person(s) that I am on purpose, not because it was the default setting.

Not because I took someone else’s word for it.

I want to recognize that sometimes I need to dive headfirst into mistakes, not to prove some point that I can mess up once in a while, but because sometimes walking into a mistake—even when I see it coming— is the right decision because I need to feel it within me. Feel all of it to GET it. My inner being, my existence, needs to live it out to feel fulfilled instead of making the decisions ahead of time to protect me from any and all potential negative consequences.

I want to know what it feels like to say things out loud that not everyone may agree with and not be afraid or feel the need to apologize afterwards. I wanted to experience failure in a way that breaks its fearful hold over me. Above all, I want to know that I made myself. And that the core values that guide me, I came to by my own terms. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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