I remember my first day of high school. Well, sort of. In a headspace that can only be described as a-hopeful-and-calm-but-anxious-ball-of-nerves, I was dropped off at the front of Summit High School. We slowly pulled up as the cars in front of us inched forward, getting ever closer to the next 4 years of my life (I was a little dramatic back then). I'm sure my mom said something along the lines of "have a great day" or "it'll be great", but I probably didn't hear it. This was high school. This was the big leagues. I could be anyone I wanted. Like a snake shedding it's skin, I too could shed the identity I'd cultivated over the last 3 years in middle school. And on that morning, stepping out of our burgundy Land Cruiser, I breathed in the frosty air. This would be my time.
The rest of the day went on rather unceremoniously. Between going over syllabi and getting lost looking for classes, the day passed without event. The halls were full of people of every stature, shape, aroma and pace. The senior guys looked like Vikings compared to the short shrimp of the freshman class, walking by with a distinct swagger that comes from a mix of good genes, good jeans, and popularity. Even if the rest of high school is a bust, at least the eye candy isn't bad, I thought to myself.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and life went on as it does for all of us: with an equal measure of victory and failure. With best friend honeymoons and divorces. With less-than-impressive choir concerts and dreaming of the people we'd become after we left the halls of Summit for good. But I had been right about one thing that first day of freshman year: I did reinvent myself, but not always for the better. Like a werewolf, unable to control their transformations, I would transform into every manner of person depending on who I was with. For a few months, I'd wear lots of Paul Frank and jeans that really didn't fit me. The next year, I had an edgy attitude, fueled by what I thought was moody music (I'm looking at you, 30 Seconds to Mars), wearing tight American Apparel clothes that could've malfunctioned at any given moment. But towards the end of my time in high school, I started to figure out what version of myself I wanted to be. Not the version that went well with this friend or that. What I started to uncover was both groundbreaking and simple.
My identity had nothing to do with the people I was trying to impress.
Stripped of the clothes that allowed me to play dress up, stripped of the gossip that would be discussed about someone unknowingly, and stripped of the social dynamics of often turbulent friendships, I realized something. I realized that the woman I saw in the mirror and the woman I wanted to be weren't the same person, and that was entirely on me. I could be whoever I wanted, so why wasn't I? What did I want to be known for? If my name came up in someone else's conversation, what would they say about me? That I was kind? That I was flighty? It's not the thought of gossip that scared me, it was the thought of people's gossip revolving around truth. What legacy did I want to have?
Since then, I've continued to become different versions of myself. Some of those versions have brought me joy and amazing friendships, and some have brought me trials and lessons, but somewhere along the way, I've become what I think might just be very close to the woman I want to be. That doesn't mean that I don't mess up, because believe me, I certainly do mess up. But when I look in the mirror, I'm proud of what I see. And even better, I'm proud of who I see. Because that version of Maddy is exactly who she's supposed to be right now: flawed, but beautiful.
For the record, I was never the cool kid in school. I would say I was a solid middle class, mostly thanks to my strange sense of humor and my stellar contribution in group project. But what I wish I could say to high school me is something I think Dr. Seuss puts better than I ever could:
"Today you are You, that is truer than true. There's no one alive your is Youer than You."
Being yourself and being proud of who you are makes you the cool kid. And in my humble opinion, there're few things more lovely in this world than people who know who they are and are overjoyed to be who they are. Because the best version of you, is, well, you! Trust me. It's truer than true.