When I was a little kid I found being genuine really easy. This was probably because my parents had always allowed my brother and me to express ourselves as we wished. I felt I knew who I was and that I was pretty awesome so I never felt the need to pretend to be different.
Junior High shook all that up for me. I was going to a new school in a new neighbourhood. There was a lot of change happening for me and everyone else in the school. Suddenly what made you ‘cool’ mattered an awful lot and apparently, I didn’t have what it took. My hair was wrong, my clothes were wrong, the music I listened to was wrong.
At twelve it’s pretty difficult to remain entirely indifferent to these pressures. I wanted to be true to myself but I also wanted to protect myself from the scrutiny of my peers. For this reason I did everything I could to pretend to be cool. I wore the clothes I thought were right. I styled my hair in ways I thought would make me fit in. I claimed to like music that I really didn’t.
But it wasn’t just with the ‘In-Crowd’ that I did these things. I had a few friends, fellow outcasts in the social circles of Junior High. My friendship with them felt precious and I would do everything I could not to jeopardize it. I adopted a similar attitude - one of telling the world to f*ck off. I roughed up my edges, showing anger where I actually just felt really afraid and uncertain.
Our teen years are pretty intense. Our bodies are changing rapidly. We’re growing, being flooded with hormones and also starting to determine who we are as people.
For me the struggle was no different than for millions of others. I felt like I had a collection of masks to wear. Around my parents I needed to be Happy-Everything-Is-Fine-and-I’m-Good-At-School Kaitlyn. Around my childhood friends I was Nothing-Has-Changed-and-I-Never-Have-to-Grow-up Kaitlyn. Around my school friends I was I-Don’t-Give-A-F*ck-and-Am-Super-Hardcore Kaitlyn. Around my teachers I was I-Try-Really-Hard-and-am-Studious Kaitlyn. Around my peers who bullied me I was Please-Just-Ignore-Me-I’m-Not-Really-Here Kaitlyn.
It was exhausting trying to be so many different people! And I was doing it so all the different people in my life would see me as I thought they expected to see me.
It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I began to consider the idea that maybe I shouldn’t be acting how I thought other people wanted me to, but acting as I knew I was. It wasn’t until High School that I understood that being truly genuine included being true to the bits of myself that I don’t always like. And a few years ago I learned that being true myself also meant not pretending that the bits of myself I don’t like are any worse than they actually are.
Being genuine isn’t easy and I don’t always get it right, but I like to think I’m getting better at it everyday. As a result the people in my life now are more genuine, compassionate people. And when I come across the ones who aren’t I can practice compassion for them because I remember being in Junior High and I remember what it was like trying to please all of the people all of the time by pretending to be someone I’m not.