Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

Perception. Such a tricky thing. There’s how others perceive me:





Since I was a child, people have made similar snap judgments about me, as people are wont to do.

Oh, she’s quiet? She must be shy.

Oh, she’s blushing? She must be nervous.

Oh, she wants to please people? She must be malleable.

Oh, she avoids confrontation? She must be weak.

And maybe I am all of those things. But I’m not just those things. I’m not just a neurotic introvert with tendencies of being a pushover. And I’d prefer if people didn’t boil me down to that. Because I am so much more.

Would you ever guess that this shy girl loves to argue? Would you ever guess that when she’s driving she cusses like a sailor? In your skewed and narrow-minded view of me, would you imagine that I’m crazy competitive? Did you know that I have a quick Irish temper? The soul of a poet? The heart of a fighter?

Funny, while in high school, everyone said I was shy. They would say it with a twinge of sympathy coloring their voices: “Oh, Katie? Well, she’s shy.” In the South, we add “bless her heart” to the end of things like that, and all the sudden, insulting someone or talking about them behind their back suddenly becomes okay. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.

To be fair, being called shy wasn’t particularly insulting. I’ve been called much worse. But as a child, I remember perceiving that three-letter-word as the nastiest of insults. Hearing it would make me cringe, because I knew it minimalized me and my abilities; I knew that as long as that word hovered over my head, I would be held back by it.

In middle school and high school, I was help back by it. I was held back by it, because I started believing it. It was the word used most often to describe Katie, the word that popped out of nearly anyone’s mouth when asked about me.

I was Katie. I was the shy girl. I was boiled down to nothing more than a label.

I think that’s what happens to many of us in high school. We get labeled. We’re jocks. Or nerds. Or outsiders. Or shy girls. We’re square pegs forced into round holes. Never mind about how we perceive ourselves. In high school, it’s all about how others perceive us.

I realized today that life hasn’t changed much from high school.

Even though I turn twenty-nine in two days, I’m still allowing myself to be defined by others. I’m still letting someone else tell me that I’m shy or a pushover or not true to myself. I’m still letting someone else tell me what’s wrong with me, why I don’t quite fit.

Today, something broke inside me. A flood of feelings, a barrage of pent-up frustrations, each one assaulting both heart and head and leaving me exposed and sure of nothing. Afterward the dam broke, I sat in front of my computer for nearly two hours, the day’s events replaying shot-by-shot in my head, regrets and confusion bubbling to the surface.

And I wrote this post, then made this vow:

My last year of my twenties will not be defined by friends or enemies. My last year of my twenties will be about me: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I will be myself. I will be kind, caring, goofy, and strange. I will worry about everything. I will laugh about nothing.  I won’t let the negativity of others drag me down. I won’t let the opinions others have of me define me. I won’t let their misconceptions rule the day. I will be me, and I will love that person, flaws and all.

Have you ever been defined by a label? Do certain people in your life have misconceptions about who you are?

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