I have a really bad memory, so the only things from my school life that I can remember are mainly from last year: 9th grade. But, there are some memories that stick out from over the years. From elementary school to the end of middle school, I used to really try to fit in. I know that sounds like everyone, but for me it was a big deal. Here’s a funny example: In 4th grade, there was a new trend: mustaches. To me now, it sounds really silly, but back then everyone was wearing mustaches. And no, I do not mean an actual mustache. There were clothing and accessories that had mustaches printed on them. I wanted to be just like everyone else, so I bought everything like that. I had any accessory or clothing item with mustaches that you can think of: Leggings, shirts, necklaces. Most people probably think that that's just like everyone else who wanted to be stylish, but for me, it was always more than the materialistic stuff; it was more about me trying to be like others. Another time I can remember was when I moved up to middle school. All of the four elementary schools came together. My friends from elementary and I drifted apart. You hear rumors about how you find new friends and you think it will automatically happen. For me, it was hard to make friends because I never really had an identity of my own. Others had interests and things in common while I didn’t. This was because I was always trying to be like everyone else and not myself. There were people I just knew were “popular.” I can remember sitting in the bleachers before school, desperately trying to be a part of conversations and trying to look “cool.” I remember my peers around me so effortlessly making new friends and already having a great personality of their own, but I was so used to conforming to the standards of others that I felt like I had nothing to offer. The sad thing is, back then, it meant more to me than just making friends. It was _who_ I was making friends with. Most everyone back then judged people based on how popular they were or who knew them and who they talked to. I constantly was worried about who I was interacting with and how people would judge me. I wanted to fit in so badly that I was always trying to be the best, to be likeable, and to be accepted. By the time I got through middle school, I learned that social status means nothing. There is no such thing as “popularity.” Trying to meet those standards did not make me happy. Over the years, I’ve learned that as long as I’m happy, that's all that matters. I used to care about who I was seen with and who I talked to, now I don't. If I enjoy talking to a person, I am going to talk to them, no matter what others think. At this point in my life, a sophomore, I've learned to be me and I’ve created my own identity based on who I am, not who others want me to be. I have grown and matured and that is something that comes with time Looking back on it, I wish I would have never tried to be like everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I still care what others think and I don't think that will ever go away; however, it is not nearly as bad as it used to be. This shift in my mindset changed my perspective for the better on how I view myself and others. If you take anything from this, it should be that you don't have to be like everyone else. Be your own.
© Emily Chitwood. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.