Lessons Learned: The Importance of Staying True to Myself

Story by Christina Amato
Photo Courtesy of Christina Amato

We all look at our elementary school pictures and laugh at our forced smiles and early 2000’s clothing that screams “tacky”. Yet, elementary school was much more than that. It’s when we first try to figure out who we are and try to conform to our peers. These were the times that acted as a catalyst to how we would turn out.

Third grade was the year I cried in student-teacher conferences because I didn’t turn in my homework. My teacher never enforced it, but since I was reprimanded in front of my parents, from then on, I cried at failure.

In elementary school, we are very impressionable. That’s where we learn the majority of our social skills, and how to interact with others. We learn how to think and feel, and we find out how we react to certain situations. It is a time that we look back on from how much we have changed, and yet we are still very similar.

This is when I first start of my confusing journey to find myself.

In middle school, I was bullied, and the school did nothing about it. I found myself acting tough and strong, and I was a friend with all the boys. With them, I could feel safe, protected. I hid behind my wall of boys because no one messed with the girl who wasn’t friends with any other girls.

This made me lie to myself that I wasn’t girly, that I didn’t like the stereotypical colors of my gender – which was entirely false. I loved purple, but I forced myself to believe I didn’t.

I feel a lot of us do this at a middle school age, where we are too old to love the things we did only a few years prior, but too young to know who we want to be. I found out then I loved math and science, and I was a 4.1 student. I classified myself as a nerd, but I didn’t really feel like that was the place for me. My intelligence was taken advantage of, and I made it clear to myself that I no longer wanted to be smart because it made me feel weird. I liked doing well on exams, but I didn’t like how I was treated.

In high school, I dumbed myself down. I slacked and didn’t put effort into my work for the subconscious fear of being bullied again. I lost my friends from middle school for not conforming to their every move. I found myself looking in the mirror thinking that I was chubby, even though I was 135 pounds soaking wet and 5’9.

Then I met my boyfriend. I thought he was strange and I couldn’t really get a grip on him, but for some reason I really liked him. My friends didn’t like that I was dating someone they didn’t know. I learned how to be independent when I really didn’t have any true friends in high school besides the theater. High school is a place to express yourself, and to “find yourself”.

I did not finish my journey in finding myself.

When I left for college, I was only in contact with one friend from high school who I still talk to who also attends Central Michigan University. I had my boyfriend. My roommates from freshman year that I knew little about eventually became the best of friends.

Still, I tried to be the perfect college student. I thought I had to go out and party all the time and would feel guilty when I stayed inside and watch Netflix. I was still in the mindset that I had to have a high GPA to be happy. The Pinterest pictures of college friends going on adventures haunted me as if I had to go out and continuously interact with other in order to be truly at peace.

Gradually, I figured out I didn’t have to do certain things to be happy. As I grew in this time, I have realized many things about myself. To have yearned for an entourage of friends was pointless because it is better to have a few friends that will stick by you no matter what than a meaningless group.

Finally, I know now what it is like to truly let go. To fully work hard doing what I love. To love others not for frivolous reasons, but for unconditional feelings that gives me butterflies.

I lied to myself growing up because I thought that I had to be the perfect girl. I had to do one thing or another, rather than allowing myself to experience multiple things. I lied to myself because I didn’t know who I was, and I had to try to find a category to fit into. For me, it was clearly not worth it.

Don’t try to put yourself in a box because you do not know who you are. It’s a process that will take time, and you just have to wait it out. Things will fall into place, I promise.

I don’t have to lie to myself anymore. I love purple, I have friends, I have made choices, and I have done things I never thought I would do in a million years.

I am still on my journey.

But instead of lying to myself I am much closer to finding myself.