A friend and I were texting tonight and laughing about those old journals we kept when we were fourteen or so that we wish we could burn but we kind of can’t because that person was us at one point–or maybe just because the journals were cool and expensive and so shouldn’t be burned.
Just thinking about that person who-used-to-be-me makes me die of embarrassment. We are talking about a teenager who looked for super-long knit dresses at the thrift store because that was what was “cool” at church, who judged everybody on sight and by very narrow standards, who was trying desperately not to grow up in some embarrassing ways. Basically the only thing from those years that doesn’t make me cringe is the part that was the very worst during those years–my deep struggles with faith and what I could believe about God and the world around me.
I think that part isn’t too embarrassing because it was genuine. It was mine and mine only.
At some point I shifted from fierce conformity to fierce individualism. And in the middle of all that was this great, genuine grappling with what I believed, with what really counted in life.
One of my friends posted today about conformity and the value we place on it in conservative circles, that she felt like water, easily taking the shape of every vessel she was poured into. She was not being bitter, but simply reflective about how the very qualities that make one an excellent citizen and family member are also qualities that can make one wonder who, exactly, one is.
I wondered as I read her post, because I was once her, and I am no longer.
Not that I don’t try to conform. I mean, my goodness, even edgy little subcultures have their set of ways that one must dress and behave, and woe to the one who doesn’t! I mean, a goth who doesn’t care for skulls? A girly girl who doesn’t like pink? A geek who doesn’t watch Star Trek? Can such things be? The second you realize that you’re comfortable in a subculture, there’s a pressure to start checking off the boxes you don’t already have checked.
Nevertheless, at some point in my life, I kind of scrapped everything and started rebuilding myself based on what I genuinely believed and genuinely liked. It started with the faith crisis, it continued in college as, you know, I got to choose my major (and chose something I liked) and then got to choose elective classes (Seriously, I was a writing major with an education minor and I took medieval history and choir just for kicks). Then I got a job doing (surprise!) something that I liked. And I have decided that because I feel called there (deep personal beliefs) and because the fact that I enjoy it is more important than the fact that I don’t make much money, I am staying there. On a more day-to-day level, if I like certain music, I will listen to it. If I like a show, I will watch it, provided I don’t have grading to do. (And if it gets canceled I will throw a several-year tantrum.) Life is too short not to do things that are genuine–things I genuinely like, things that genuinely matter to me.
Of course, to make sure I’m being spiritual enough, I should add that it does matter to me that God and I can still talk. If something clearly isn’t helping with that, then it does need to go. But even then, that standard isn’t because someone else is telling me to have it–it’s because that is truly important to me. It is genuine.
Seriously, when taken with a grain of salt, “follow your heart”–as in, base your life on what you genuinely believe and what you genuinely enjoy–is not half bad advice.
Does come with some snags? You betcha. Such as, you know, a paranoia of disapproval if I mention movies or music I like around people with stricter standards. Or accusations of intolerance if what I genuinely believe about God isn’t in keeping with what’s popular. But whatever you like or believe or feel, there will always be someone who disapproves of it. Always. And if we let that stop us, nothing would ever get done.
If I could go back and tell that horrifyingly awkward fourteen-year-old in those journals one thing, I think it would be an encouragement to be genuine. To only do something because she really wanted to, because she really liked it, because she really believed it. And to value the genuine in herself and others.
“Do you ever think about how much you’ve changed and wonder if you’re even still the same person?” I texted my friend. (I may have been binge-ing Dollhouse and having some deep metaphysical thoughts about personhood.)
“Lol,” he replied. “Hopefully I’m not!”
The more I think about it, the more I don’t think I am. And the more I think about it, the surer I become that that is a truly excellent thing.