002. high school, lunch time, and fitting in

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High school. Senior Year. Ten years ago… We were sitting outside underneath the long revered “senior tree.” I’d served my time the past three years, eating lunch underneath each respective tree sprawled out along the quad.  Each tree marked how far along I was in my high school career. I had finally made it to this tree. Thank. God. This tree meant I was almost able to talk about high school in the past tense. And I needed it to be a past tense conversation or declaration, that I’d made it through…

When the bell rang at lunch time, 23 minutes of supervised “freedom” were granted. If you played by the rules, you’d be left to your ham sandwiches and sun chips. I was told to put my jacket back on one sunny day because the straps on my dress did not meet the two finger requirement. Oops, I totally *didn’t* forget that when I was getting dressed this morning…I just didn’t care when I got dressed this morning. High school man…

Those 23 minutes were certainly not the best part of my day. Those lunch time minutes and the minutes leading up to it gave me a whole lot of anxiety. Where would I sit? Who would I talk to? Who would talk to me? Those questions showed up daily. My true lunch time companions. The silver lining I hung onto was that getting through lunch meant I was 23 minutes closer to clock striking 2:15pm. Oh, the holy sound of that dismissal bell. Actual freedom, where I got to leave and not come back for the rest of the day.

Friend groups had solidified at this point and while I was friendly with the majority of my classmates, I was friends with very few. High school was tough in a lot of ways and friendships ranked high on my list of troubles. Fitting in has never been one of my strong suites.

Pretty-ish, but a touch too awkward for the guys.

Nice-ish, but not so cool that invitations to hang out on the weekends were extended.

Smart-ish, but not so smart I had any bragging rights about where I was going to college.

I floated around groups, popping in and out, never fully committing myself to one particular posse for a prolonged period of time. When lunch time came, my usual game plan was to linger with the girls I was already in class with. It was natural to walk with them, hopefully, not too obvious that the real reason I was tagging along was because sitting at an empty lunch table was socially unbearable. My insecurities told me it was best to follow the leader, just smile and nod, pretend like everything was okay.

The saddest part of all this was not that I was lacking in party invites or that I was not tagged in very many Facebook pictures…it was that I had no real sense of myself. I had no idea my voice worked, that I had the potential to speak up or speak out.

Fitting in and having a voice are like cake…you can’t have your cake and eat it too. One or the other.

For high school, I very much chose fitting in.

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Circa 2008. Long live her pearls.

My cheeks get hot when I remember how I asked one of the cool girls for an invitation to the prom after-party one day during those twenty three minutes of lunch. Everyone was going. And by everyone, I mean the popular people. They were all going to ride together in a party bus to the after-party and pass around water bottles of vodka to enjoy the forbidden fruits, and dance the night away. I wanted a bite of that apple. Fitting in can be so intoxicating, can’t it?

I’m cringing thinking about how cliche it was of me to get caught up in the woes of popularity and high school, but how could I not? With very little self-esteem, I was all too prey to this well told story line.

So I brazenly asked for an invite for me and my high school boyfriend. I got a quick no. There wasn’t anymore room on the bus…At least she ripped the band-aid off fast.

Humiliation hung around me for longer though. She continued on talking about plans without missing a beat and I quickly became overly occupied with my carrot sticks, looking down to hide my reddening face.

I don’t blame her for telling me no. There really was no reason for me to be there. I simply didn’t belong.

I’ve got a decade on the girl I used to be. Most days, I work hard to have compassion on her and show her all the kindness that acne, awkward fashion choices, and insecurities kept her from. Other days, it’s like no time has gone by and I still find myself asking for a seat at the cool kids table.

I didn’t start this blog thing for a very long time because I feared the judgements I’d be opening myself up to. I kept pledging allegiance to fitting in.

Writing is me in my most vulnerable form. I have stacks of red journals that I’ve spent the greater part of this past decade writing in. Slow and steady proof of me finding my voice, solidifying my truths, and discovering what exactly it was I would use my voice for.

In 1973 Bill Moyers had a conversation with Maya Angelou. The transcript is poignant as it is timeless. A dialogue about race, gender, politics, and America’s scarred history. A favorite quote of hers below.

“I belong to myself. I’m very proud of that. I am very concerned about how I look at Maya. I like Maya very much. I like the humor and the courage very much. And -when I find myself acting in a way that isn’t — that doesn’t please me, then I have to deal with that.”

I, too, belong to myself. I, too, am very concerned about how I look at Blake. I, too, like Blake very much. And I have to deal with myself when I am acting in a way that doesn’t please me.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s simply not possible to fit in and have a voice. Today, I choose the cost of having a voice because the cost of not having one has become too grim. I can face loneliness and judgement and criticism and rejection. It still hurts, but I can tolerate it. It’s become much, much harder to face my own reflection when I’ve sold myself out for a seat at a table where I simply don’t belong.

To end, a note to the girl who was uninvited:

Just wait. You will see. Your heart will become your invitation. Say yes, ask for help, tell the truth and your heart will carry you on the journey home.

Self-Care Questions:

What is the cost for you of fitting in? What is the cost of having a voice?

Where do you not belong?

What were you like ten years ago? Where are you on the pendulum of compassion and disdain?

How might you say yes to the invitation of your own heart?

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