How many of us have suffered through season upon season of Breaking Bad and still diligently followed the hit TV series just because we wanted to seem cool? I did. Fitting into skin-tight jeans was a trip to hell and back. Yet, I bought two of those just because they were in vogue (certainly not because they looked good).
From the time I began grasping the dynamics of urban middle class society, there was an urge to belong–somewhere, anywhere. Especially in a peer group that everybody else looked up to. When I was in high school, I wanted to hang out with people who listened to Backstreet Boys (yes, Backstreet Boys) and read Harry Potter. In college, there was music I did not understand or even appreciate, but it stayed on my playlist. This wish to belong did not just stop here, it became my shadow constantly monitoring my moves whether I fit in or not.
Familiar much? Welcome to the world of not knowing who you are and where you are headed.
In the pursuit of chasing the uber-cool, little did I realise I was missing out on things that mattered, that could shape my personality. I missed out on discovering my strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, abilities, talents and so much more. My days were ruled by saying and doing things I did not connect with or even approve of, in some cases. Nevertheless, I actively pushed myself to be part of it. I recall vividly, the sleepless nights I went through simply because I felt like a misfit. The effort to be cool corroded my confidence.
Take it from me, adhering to an image doesn’t just eat away at your self-esteem but is also tedious and exhausting. It used to be an ordeal waking up every morning and donning the mask of a person admired and envied by all. It was almost as if I had a split personality. A constant battle between the real me and the wannabe me left me suffocated, befuddled even. It was an endless struggle to find myself–a feeling of inadequacy that would ultimately translate into desperate attempts to fit in.
In the pursuit of chasing the uber-cool, little did I realise I was missing out on things that mattered, that could shape my personality.
This is not just my story. I bet, many of us can relate similar stories. So, how does one understand such internal conflict? Someone once told me, every situation has something to teach us. I knew this could be no different. I tried to look at the positive side of it. If I felt like a misfit, I tried to reinvent myself. I read different things, sampled different kinds of music and took cooking lessons to see what I actually loved doing. In retrospect, this quest to find myself was just the push I needed.
I dug deeper into the matter, trying to fathom why intelligent, evolved beings like us seem to constantly invest precious time and energy trying to be someone else (someone perfect, or at least near perfect) when we can spend it getting to know ourselves better?
My epiphany continued to keep me in an introspective mood. It told me that an almost innate need to be accepted and loved pushes us towards conformity. And it was this need for approval, above all else, that stood in my way of becoming my own person. Until one day, when I sat up and decided to question my perspective. And voila! I felt lighter and happier being myself. As I stopped looking for approval from my peers, there seemed to be no dearth of admiration from all around. The geeky girl with a pixie haircut at school, I eventually learnt to appreciate who I was. Of course, as irony would have it, by the time I grew up, being a nerd became cool. Except that it didn’t matter anymore.
Times change, so do perceptions. Ten years from now it won’t matter whether I was cool or lame. What will matter is the life lived, hearts made happier, friends cherished and lives touched.
Way better than cool.