I received a terrifying letter in the mail the other day. It was an invitation to a grade school reunion -- as in eighth grade.
Ew, right? The very thought sent chills up my spine. Did I really want to revisit my adolescent self? Does anyone?
Now, I am old enough to know that every one of us, from the beauty queens to the brainiacs, goes through an awkward stage -- unloved, uncool, unsure of ourselves. We've gone here before:
Whether we were beauty or brains, prom queen or wallflower, picked first or last for volleyball or had our ass routinely kicked by Algebra II, we were filled with self doubt. Self-definition came in the form of how someone treated us at lunch or whether the phone rang that night. Deep inside, or maybe not even so deep, we were all just a little bit miserable because of, or in spite of, how we thought others perceived us.
For me, the dork stage came on like a bull at the start of seventh grade, peaked precipitously in eighth and ninth grade, then gradually subsided by the time I started my junior year of high school when, coincidentally, I had gotten both contact lenses and my driver's license. Up until then, however, I was the shy, nerdy girl with thick glasses, bad hair and -- insult to injury -- hay fever.
I was never without a Kleenex.
Yep, I was truly tragic for a few years there, yet not tragic enough to be oblivious to the fact. So clearly, you can imagine my reluctance to willingly go back to the dark days in the form of cocktails and lunch at a chichi restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf. Would people I hadn't seen since I turned 14 still remember me as the dorky kid? Worse, would I suddenly start thinking of myself that way once again?
And then -- insert light bulb here -- because I am a grown up and presumably have learned a thing or two about life along the way, I realized that maybe that sorry image of myself wasn't about mean girls or pecking orders. It was really about me. A prison of my own making.
Sometimes what keeps us from growing into ourselves, what holds us back in any number of ways and often keeps us undecided when it comes to figuring out what to do with our lives -- and being happy with that decision once we've made it -- is the fear of being judged. But what it takes a while to realize is this: Often, the almighty judge who had us quaking in our grade school plaid is made of straw. The mythical mean girls we feared then -- and those we fear now -- may exist only in our own heads. And when it comes to all this leftover adolescent angst, women seem to have much thinner skins than men.
Is it the lingering legacy of adolescence? We're held back by the fear that we are going to be judged when in fact, the only judge is the girl in the mirror. Sure, we know this. And yet, we still second-guess our decisions. We search for approval. We let ourselves be tyrannized by the shoulds. We worry about whether we will measure up. Whether we fit in. We see ourselves as (we assume) others see us.
We end up, in fact, imprisoned by our own assumptions of what other folks will think -- based on who we think those people actually are. The funny thing is that what we're doing is judging them. It's often unfair -- and insulting, to boot. And we do it all the time.
Anyway, if all of the above sounds like a pep talk to get me to shell out the fifty-five bucks for that reunion, you're right. I'm still undecided as to whether I'm going to go. On the plus side, I am considerably better looking than I was at 14, I have a pretty cool job, and I have finally mastered the art of conversation. I also spend a good amount of money to have good hair.
But then again: I still have hay fever. Don't judge.
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