One of the most important lessons that I learned in college was to respect myself and to surround myself with people who respected me as well. It’s a simple message that should be common sense. But it took me years to come to that conclusion. In High School I never really respected myself. I believed that my personality was inherently a flawed one and that my friends were either extremely patient or socially unaware. You had to be a little fucked up yourself in order to put up with the mess that was me. The popular kids thought there was something wrong with me and I believed that they were right. I internalized these misconceptions and created my self-image from it. I was worthless. Annoying. Terrible. Unimportant. A waste of space. My friends only put up with me because they were polite and felt bad. I didn’t respect myself and so I let others disrespect me. I let the meaner kids talk down to me. I let the popular kids exclude me and treat me like I didn’t matter. I let the nicer kids treat me with pity. I let myself get pushed aside, forgotten, and I disappeared into the background.
Things changed in college. I was still the “quiet kid” in the group, but I now had two groups that I was a part of. I put myself out there, forced myself to make small talk, and became friends with kids that I never would have spoken to in High School. Were there awful ego trips and nights where my anxiety paralyzed me? Absolutely. I can remember sitting in fetal position in my car before fencing practices, paralyzed. I can remember staying up late at night reliving social interactions from the day and what I did wrong. I remember being plagued by the fear that people would eventually discover the real me and be disgusted. I can remember pushing people away and icing them out. It only got worse when I got fired from my first job in retail. It was all my worst fears come true. All the negative thoughts I had about myself out in the open and validated. I came back my Sophomore Year insecure and scared. But I still forced myself to still be social, to make new friends, and to pass all my classes. Was I a little mopey, brooding, and aloof? Definitely. But, even so, I was still putting myself out there. By the end of the year, I realized that I was not defined by my failure and I was still a good person worthy of friendship and love. I had bypassed the depression and moved onto anger. Anger at the world for mistreating me, misunderstanding me, and not giving me a chance.
So when I went back to see my High School crowd halfway through college, it was a strange experience. I auditioned for a show that a lot of people I knew were in. But none of my friends. Immediately, people started treating me like the weird mute girl again. Immediately, I started reforming myself to fit their expectations. But something was different. The kids in the show were the same as I remembered them. They treated me the same as they always had. But suddenly that bothered me. Suddenly, being treated like a confusing simple-minded mute pissed me off. And then, when I finally got the chance to break out of the mold by being offered a small role, it was like a phoenix taking flight. I soared, I kicked ass, and I proved myself to everyone. Including myself. I realized then that the people I was in the show with were wrong about me. But, if I surrounded myself with people who believed in me, I could find my true self and like what I saw.
When I came back to college for my Junior Year, I was flying high. I felt amazing, I finally felt comfortable in my own skin, and I was ready to show everybody the new me. This is when an interesting thing happened. Half of my “friends” treated me like crap. They remembered me as the shy insecure scared girl who sat in the corner and they were content to continue treating me as such. But I was not content to stay that way. I lost respect for a lot of people that year and I cut a lot of people out of my life. The other half of my friends went with the flow and were glad to see me come out of my shell. They were friendly, kind, and open-minded. Unsurprisingly, the people who accepted me as I was were the same people who were always there for me when I was struggling and filled with self-loathing. Funny how that works out.
As my senior year rolled in, I began to respect myself more and my whole life improved because of it. I cut out the critics and naysayers permanently. I surrounded myself with friends and people who believed in me and liked me as I am. Some of the people who had ignored me previously started to change their minds and suddenly they were the ones trying to be my friend. A lot of the critics told me how much I had grown and I eventually earned their respect. Not that I cared by that point. Even the theater people started warming up to me, people who I have known since middle school. I changed people’s minds. By changing my perception of myself and surrounding myself with people who brought out the best in me…I changed minds. That’s pretty amazing.
I know it seems trite to say, but respecting yourself is a vital first step to living a better life. How can you expect other people to treat you right if you can’t treat yourself right? Every single person matters. Every single person deserves to be here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The right people will treat you with respect. Nobody’s opinion is more vital than your own. Let me end off with one of my favorite quotes to remember in times when I’m feeling doubtful. A quote that I heard halfway through junior year that changed my life forever, from a character who is an idol to me. Seriously, this character taught me to respect myself, kick ass, and not let anybody’s judgments deter me. I started watching this show and immediately started noticing how I acted the way people expected me to act and I came to the realization that their opinions and perspectives on who I am in no way defined me. This show was legitimately life-changing and I owe it so much for that. Peggy Carter is queen.
“I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter”-Peggy Carter (Agent Carter)