We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

← Back to all stories
Photo ofKatio Barbosa

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged society and made the outside world into a ghost town. Streets were empty, stores were shut down, people were locked in their homes, and the only presence outside was the neighbor’s annoying dog barking. Forced into isolation, I was constantly in a state of reflection, and after one fateful day filled with many phone calls I realized I didn't know who I was. Rather, I was a collection of fragments that were not reflective of who I actually am. I was an inauthentic sculpture, made of pieces that others chose for me. I realized I didn't know who I was, and it broke me.

It was around August when everything began to unfold. Stuck at home and in the midst of attempting to navigate a broken relationship, I decided to have a conversation with a close mentor of mine. I wanted to unpack a lot of what was going on in my life around the tarnished relationship. The conversation eventually led us to exploring my identity and how I contributed to an unhealthy relationship. My mentor helped me realize that I didn't know what I really wanted because I didn't have a strong sense of self. To say this was a shock would be an understatement. I felt like everything I knew about my identity was destroyed. I had lost all sense of direction. It felt like I was living a lie because I realized I was living for the satisfaction of others. I was already on a decline in terms of motivation and just carrying out simple tasks, so this was a blow to the gut. The following couple of days were spent reflecting and doing the bare minimum in school. I went from being a straight A student to having twelve missing assignments in a week.

Then I had a conversation with my brother. We went out on a walk and had a conversation about everything. We spoke on topics ranging from my faulty relationship, to my imitative behavior, and so much more. We spoke for hours and had such a beautiful conversation, and in the end I came to a realization that I had been giving so much to others but gave little to nothing to myself. I had been living for social acceptance rather than self-acceptance.

After this realization I began to work on self-improvement. Now, I do not work towards the ideals of society or what others expect of me. I’ve learned that once you stop living by the means of others and what they deem to be acceptable, you will find your true sense of self. This may make you socially unacceptable, but that’s OK!

Now I can say that I am a much more original piece of art, way better than anything Picasso could make. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but you get the picture. This isn’t a story of triumph. In fact this is a story about a battle we must all fight. Now I am starting to better understand who I am as a person and what I want for myself. Growth will come in time, but it's an ongoing process. Even within the past couple of months I have grown a tremendous amount, and I know more is to come. This is not a story of triumph; it's one of lessons and patience. 

© Katio Barbosa. 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.