"I am warning you guys now that I probably won't be hanging out with you as much anymore," a 10-year-old version of myself explained to my two next-door neighbors. "I am going to be wearing really bright colors to school so the popular girls will notice me."
I figured out the key to being popular in the fourth grade. Forget kindness, throw out "being yourself." The secret to popularity was wearing bright colors: reflector orange, neon green, hot pink. I was absolutely certain, so much that I hinged my hopes and dreams of being worthwhile to a group of four girls on a variety of highlighter colors. I forced my mother into buying the most obnoxious colored clothing, too outlandish for even the rainbow, so that I could attempt to stand out, get noticed and sit with the cool girls at lunch.
Well it worked.
I still don't know how a rail thin child coated with freckles and frizzies, donning a neon plaid "skort," got to sit at the popular table. But being popular in the fourth grade is the same as being popular at the age of 21. It means nothing if you are not true to yourself.
A lot of us deserve Academy Awards for pulling off performances better than Sandra Bullock. We spend days and months and years of our lives pretending to be people that we are not, living in an image that binds us into being and acting a certain way. We have this innate desire to please those around us and one of the easiest ways to do so seems to be through suppressing who we truly are in order to cultivate what is pleasing to the eyes of others. We want to be skinnier for other people, be more stand-out in a crowd, more wild and mysterious. Can you see the parade going by already? Yes, the very parade where our true selves go shackled and weeping into the dungeon because we would rather be what everyone else expects of us...
I have struggled with perfectionism for a long while now. Not even the need to be perfect for myself, but the need to be perfect for other people. The Need To Hold It All Together. To Never Disappoint. To Never Come Undone. In the past it has never been good enough to simply be me. I never believed that anyone would want to know the real Hannah, the one who is more introverted than extroverted, the one who finds more thrill in a great novel than she does for a party on a Saturday night, the one whose mind never shuts off with ways in which she could make the world better. I scoffed at compliments that people gave me thinking they must have been mistaken. I nearly cried in hilarity when someone would call me "gorgeous" or "beautiful."
It is sad but true that we find ways to make our own selves worthless in this world. We should be embracing our souls, scooping them up in our arms and squeezing them tight, basking in the fact that we have a thrilling and exciting life that is all our own. We should be jumping up and down and doing little jigs for the fact that we are different from one another; you have stunning and remarkable qualities that I will never possess, I have traits and characteristics that would never suit you. Our differences bind us together. Our uniqueness makes up this very space. Our individualism allows the globe to spin, for people to love, for hands to reach out and for change to prosper. You reach in one direction, I reach in another. We touch base with one another through the fact that we touch separate parts of this world.
Something clicked in my head. The purpose is not to strive for popularity (though being well liked is not a bad thing), the purpose is to strive to do our part, to make our lives into something, and this can only be done if we truly accept what we have been given to work with. It is as Pablo Casals once said, "Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move."
You see, lately I don't sleep as well I used to and I know exactly why. I am far too exhilarated to close my eyes, knowing that I love my life far better than any dream. My focus is no longer on perfection; my focus is on passion, on impacting others. I can change people's lives with words. I can smile at a stranger and alter their day. I can extend my heart and my arms, my legs and my soul. The ripples come. They are greater than I may ever know.
So let me be unpopular if it means I traded it in for happiness. Let me be imperfect it allows me to know that I serve my purpose just fine. Let me be, just let me be, if at the end of the day, that means I am me.
**And just so we know that no exaggerations were made... Here is the picture of my first day of fourth grade... ready for the school bus... I don't think you will have any difficulty in locating me.