As my thirtieth birthday looms, I find that all my thoughts are consumed with Things I Wish People Had Told Me In My Twenties. When I was a teenager, the internet was a different place. I had AOL and I created profiles, chatted with strangers, and used vague song lyrics as away messages. But, the world was still locked away. I think about all the parts of me I would have revealed had I known it was okay to do so, had I ever been exposed to someone who was similar to me.
I felt very alone when I was a teenager, isolated and frustrated that I felt so different. I learned to hide who I was, to become likable and acceptable, to base my self-esteem on the approval of others. I had no idea that I could simply change my thoughts in order to accept myself. I thought there was one way to be and I wasn’t it until I fixed myself to be it. Years later and I’m still trying to shake off the belief that I am broken, that I am not measuring up in some way. With or without the internet, I think everyone goes through this, but I have seen my entire worldview change as I’ve been exposed to people—if only digitally—who are so unabashedly themselves, even when who they are is not socially accepted. Hailing from an affluent, mostly white suburb in Northern California, conformity was of utmost importance and—while I managed to break free from the sameness—it still was an environment where difference was not appreciated.
I’m not writing this to blame anyone or anything. I take responsibility for how I feel and how I process anything from my past. It simply helps to unpack it, to follow the threads and watch them unspool as I tug, tug, tug at each one.
I wish someone would have told me that it’s okay to let free whoever I really am. I’ve come to realize that the worst case scenario in life isn’t to be rejected by others, but to reject yourself. A life spent denying all the parts of you—no matter how insignificant they may seem—is a life that is too unfulfilling to bear. There is no glory, no reward for following the set path, for being invited into the largest majority where nothing is challenged and everyone must stand up straight and recite all the same platitudes. I so wanted to rebel against that when I was younger, but I didn’t know how. I was so afraid that I kept myself hidden and small and insignificant.
That little insignificant girl sometimes peeks into my life, even now. My first thought when I get an idea is, “what will people think?” And, I hate that. I judge that about myself. It’s a fucking prison to care what people think to the extent that it dictates what you allow yourself to do or not do. I write about this topic a lot, to the point where it’s almost exhausting, but it’s only because I watch how it runs on repeat in my mind. I watch how, no matter how many times I catch the thought in mid-air and try to squash it down, it still finds a way to sneak its way back into my life.
Somewhere along the dizzying path from my teenage years to my late twenties, I learned that what other people think of me is more important than what I think of me. I never had an example of people who shun the norm in favor of a deliciously rebellious life. There was no Tumblr. No fashion bloggers of all sizes, colors, and shapes. No bloggers, period. No YouTube videos talking about how it gets better. No uplifting quotes about how to change your life. No seventeen-point listicles mirroring myself back to me, making me feel less alone. I didn’t know any writers or artists. I didn’t know anyone who wanted more out of their lives. I was so deeply rooted in the “reality” of life that I numbed myself to my dreams. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I hadn’t spent my twenties denying who I was in favor of being what other people wanted me to be. I wish I hadn’t accommodated so many fucking people when all I wanted to do was break free and be myself.
So, here’s my advice from me to you: fight for yourself and for who you are. One day, whatever you hate about yourself now will be what you love about yourself later. I was a weird kid, a progressive old soul artist trapped in the body of a teenager. I wish I’d let that all fly.
Please give yourself permission to let the weird out. Let the freak flag fly. Let that strange part of you that you desperately keep locked away out into the open and find your people. Your fake-ass friends who don’t even know you aren’t worth it. Find the ones who will see all the parts of you—the ugly and beautiful truth of who you are—and will still love you. Let yourself have that. Believe in the magic of that, because that’s how the world works. The world can be unkind and unjust and unfair, but it does deliver to you such light when you choose to reveal yourself. It’s not easy to unpackage yourself for the world to see and I will never say it doesn’t require all you have not to package yourself back up again, but I think it’s worth it. I think it’s worth being known and seen so brilliantly.
That’s the silver lining to this all, that now I get to appreciate being known and seen as the real me. It may sound cheesy and corny and it kind of is, but some of the best things are cheesy and corny. I’m down with cheesy. I’m down with corny. Because, when I get to be around my people and I get to reveal myself so deeply without fear of being judged or rejected—because I do not judge or reject myself—it’s like total fucking magic. It’s like coming home to a place I never thought existed. And that makes it worth it. So, fight for you. It matters. It’s important. You’re important. This world needs more real, more weird, more rebel.