A New You
How Being the Old You Can Actually Save You
When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I decided I needed to take it upon myself to become the designated Funny One in my group of friends. I was the Shy Kid all my life; I had just started middle school not that long ago and begun hanging out with a new friend group, and I felt like I needed to assert myself as the new, extroverted person I was. I used to be horribly disorganized and forgetful (I like to think I'm a little more put-together now) and I would play that side of myself up for attention. I would poke fun at myself, laughing about the many "dumb" or "weird" things I'd done and how "awkward" or "clueless" or fill-in-hurtful-adjective-here I was. My friends would be set into hysterics, telling me how hangouts wouldn't be the same without me and how hilarious I was. My fragile ego swelled.
But the thing is, when you make it a hobby to laugh at yourself in front of your friends for fun, guess what? Those friends just might start laughing at you, too. And, looking back at that time in my life now, I think to myself, And why wouldn't they? Of course they laughed at me, too. I was practically begging for them to do so, the way I would monopolize each and every conversation we had with my silly, trivial antics: I missed the bus again, I forgot to do my homework again, I was so starving I ate the sprinkles off of a pan of freshly baked brownies that weren't for me, I got so distracted from one thing six times in a row in a matter of minutes; I mixed up America with Asia on a map, I did something stupid in front of my crush, I'll dissolve into manic giggles at any little thing, I'm so hyper I can't focus on anything...
I loved the attention, of course. I relished in it, basked in it, thought of myself as the funniest person in the world for acting so stupid. But sometimes, my friends would take it too far. They would say something in the middle of a totally mature conversation that would hint at my (manufactured) inability to sit still or my (fake) ditziness. And I would get upset, even though now it's plain to see that I 100% brought it on myself. I teased myself so much that it was no surprise my friends would think it was always OK for them to do the same thing.
However, at the time, I didn't see it that way. Sometimes, I would put away my highly dramatized and glittery personality when I was alone and cry by myself with my favorite sad songs blaring, wondering why my friends were being so mean to me. Wondering how they could poke fun at my personality like that. This is just who I am, I told myself. It's not fair for them to treat me this way. But that's just the thing: It WASN'T who I was. Yes, I can be silly sometimes, but so can all of us. I was simply trying so hard to be entertaining, to be interesting to these people who thought I was the funniest person ever, that I sacrificed my dignity and lost track of my true, deeper self in the process.
At my thirteenth birthday party sleepover, my new friends were really ripping into me. They were laughing at me and calling me variations of "dumb" so many times (jokingly, of course) that one of my other friends, who I've known since preschool was semi-silent all night and never cracked a smile. I frowned at her and wondered what was up. Finally, there was a moment later on in the night when it was just her and I. She said to me, "That's not funny." I asked her what wasn't funny: I had been laughing right along with them, perhaps even the loudest of them all. But my old friend just shook her head. "The way they're treating you," she said plainly.
The next day, when all my friends had left, I went to my mom in tears and told her how those words had really stuck with me. They were true, I had realized: It wasn't funny how they were treating me. She told me, "Well, if you try so hard to act like the funny one all the time, they'll assume you want them to tease you. I did the same thing when I was your age: I tried to be funny so my friends would think I was cool, and they started doing the same thing to me that your friends are doing to you." I resisted her advice at first, but slowly, it dawned on me.
She was right.
If I kept this up, my situation would never change. And even now, several years later, I'm still recovering from my big, failed personality upgrade. It's still hard sometimes to let that giggling girl from what feels like ages ago drift away with the wind; memories of our crazy laughing nights shine in my mind's eye like diamonds. I remember those times as so carefree, so perfect, but I have to remind myself how I was degrading myself in the process. I made those friends right when I was slipping into my new comedic role, and now I have to figure out how to step out of it, distance myself from the part I played for so long: the part of bumbling court jester. And the thing is, I know these friends of mine will respect my true self, but maybe I'm just a little bit afraid to step out of my facade completely. Because then what will I be? Boring? Quiet and reserved all over again, as I was labeled all through elementary school?
I know, though, that I need to let my real personality shine through. I don't need to be afraid to be myself. Quite the contrary: I need to be afraid of never letting anyone get to know who I really am, because I am darned awesome. I am smart and good at writing and music and running; I am kind and ambiverted, and, yes, funny. I am friendly and sometimes quiet and I don't care what people think of me, as long as I know I'm being true to who I am.
So I write this now begging everyone: Just be yourself. Don't put on airs or indulge in extravagant pretenses. I'm warning you now that you will feel the need to become them. Your head will get inflated with the praise you receive for your antics, and you will take it to heart: "this is who I am now."
But it isn't. I can guarantee you this: anything that doesn't come naturally, anything that has to pass through an inner checkpoint (is this how New Me would act? Is this what New Me would say?); those things aren't the real you.
You, as you are, as you want to act, what you want to say, the things you love to do and the people you love to surround yourself with: those things are the real you. Please, if you're putting on an act, just drop it. Trust me, you'll breathe a big sigh of relief once you're truly able to let go of all the fakeness and truly embrace who you are. And if you're currently hanging out with anyone who doesn't respect you for those things, then it's time to get a new crew.
But—and I'm about to say something horribly cheesy here—it's NEVER time to get a new you.