In the seventh grade, I had a blue streak dyed into my hair. In eighth grade I went through a moccasin phase, and wore clunky men’s moccasins every day to school. By ninth grade I felt the need to again damage my hair, and bleached in highlights, of which the remnants remain noticeable today. Tenth grade saw the worst in me; I lost 50 pounds and a lot of meals. And the next year I dated that closeted gay guy. “Those are my awkward stages,” I would say, “what was I thinking?” We all ask that same question. Lo and behold though, we’ll all be told that those are the years we’re finding ourselves; we’re supposed to be awkward. If we aren’t, they ask, how are we supposed to know who we are?
Yet in seventh grade, I knew that I wanted blue hair. When I was 16, I knew for a fact that I needed to be skinnier and that was the only way. My first love feelings were true, no matter how many red flags there were. Yes, it is painful and unbelievably painful to look back at the pictures with sweat pant Bermuda shorts and crocs, but in the moment, I felt me. I felt me with the blue and bleach hair. I felt me with the oversized moccasins and messy buns. I felt me with the dorky glasses and unbleached mustache. In the moment it was so right, and only when I look back can I see what I truly was on the outside. I was finding myself, right?
Today I feel the same on the inside as I did when I was 14. The Salvation Army flannels and capris feel right. The low ponytail scrunchy feels right; as right as when I believed my jean gauchos went perfectly with my mickey mouse sweatshirt. But then I was just finding myself, right? I mean, now that I went through my awkward, stage, this is real. This is real life when I finally decided I’ve found myself.
When I’m 50 years old, will I still be shopping at Goodwill? Will I draw on one meticulous dark line on my water line? Will I wear the same gold hoop earring on my cartilage, or wear mismatched socks with my Keds? How couldn’t I, when it feels so right today. When does the universe decide that I’ve found myself fully, and this is who I am? When do I stop looking back at old pictures and justify that I was just “going through a stage:” the bleached hair stage, the man moccasin stage, the thrift store and scrunchy stage?
I imagine a video game with flashing lights: GAME OVER. I win. No more changing or evolving; I found the secret to who I am finally, the end result of the product I had slaved over awkwardly creating for my whole life. The game will roll the credits, thanking my awkward middle school years and my rebellious high school years. It will thank my coming of age college years and my attempt at maturity 20-years. GAME OVER, you have found yourself. Congratulations.
Then again, I felt the same as my 14-year-old self, when I was confident that this is what I want, and this is who I am. Why do these years have to be about finding ourselves? We are ourselves then, the same self we are today. We change with the environment, yet we are led to believe that we have been waiting all along just to unlock a part of our brain that meticulously lays out the type of person that we are supposed to embody. We are led to believe that the experiences we have will help us determine the stereotype we were born to be.
I was done finding myself in kindergarten when I wanted the orange chair in a sea of blue chairs, always seeking to be different. My sister knew she wanted to grow up to boss people around as soon as I came out of the womb, ready to tell me what to do, as all big sisters do. My best friend was done finding herself when her dad beat her and her siblings from birth, and she strives to travel and gain as many experiences as she can, embracing the happiness and opportunities around the world.
We are led to believe we must sacrifice our childhoods and teen years to being uncomfortable and naïve, and in the end, it will be alright, because we will have found ourselves. The truth however, is that our “true selves” are always there. Personalities cannot change, and the “awkward” stages of our lives are just ways we show these personalized traits we call our personalities. We must learn how to not dismiss those years as wasted in the process of finding ourselves, because that is our own self, and in the moment, we thought it was right. Just as 20 years from now, we may question what we do today. Embrace the you that was given to you when you were younger, because if you wait to find out who you truly are, you’ll miss the years that you unknowingly embraced it the most.