My teen and young adult years are strange to reflect back on. I definitely was trying to figure out who I was, but I was also trying to be liked by as many people as I could and it’s impossible to do both at the same time. This is how I became a young leader at my church the same year I started smoking. In college I smoked pot and listened to jam bands while also getting baptized in a Southern Baptist church.
(I mean, not at the exact same time, obviously.)
I often was just trying to figure out the best hat to wear that allowed me to have more friends. Or maybe cooler friends? Or maybe friends that made me cool? I don’t know. I do know I claimed to like books and movies and music that, when left alone, I never chose to entertain myself with. But then I also bought a NIV bible and listened to Baptist preachers tout the benefits of salvation when I never truly believed any of that either.
I look back on people I knew those years and wonder…was I the only one floundering? Was I the only one trying to figure out what I really liked and who I really wanted to be? Because I feel like most of my friends knew who they were, and I was just trying to be like them. Even now I feel like my kids and their friends are more solid in their identities at 13 and 15 than I was until my mid-20s.
I think part of my problem was exposure. I went to a small homogenous school and didn’t meet people outside that “type” until I was old enough to drive and take myself to other places. I think I met that experience by rejecting the me that fit the previous homogeneity. “Me? Like POP MUSIC? NEVER!” “ME? WATCH TELEVISION? Uggg. I’m too cool for TELEVISION.”
It turns out I like pop music. And TV.
So I spent many years thinking that I wasn’t into such basic/vanilla things but it turns out you can like the vanilla things and obscure things AT THE SAME TIME. At 46 I’m going to rock the EFF out to Olivia Rodrigo, but I’m also going to go to small art galleries in an old boot factory. I’m going to be a Marvel Movie completist but also watch Japanese Horror movies with English subtitles. (That one is thanks to my oldest kid.)
I spent many years swinging back and forth on a non-linear spectrum around “Punk/Hippie” and “Religious Zealot” and ignored everything in between. Turns out? I like a lot of the spirituality from the religious end of my journey and a lot of the music and fashion from the punk/hippie end…but most importantly? I love TONS of the basic shit in the middle.
You see those memes often that say, “What would you tell 16-year old you?” And I never have a good answer. I think I had to go through all of the trial and error and all of the pain I caused friends while I bounced around all of my personalities in order for me to make it where I am today. So I don’t think I’d tell her to do anything different, I think I’d just promise her that she’d find her way someday. To hang in there. Maybe I would encourage her to not shit on as many people on the journey but honestly? I think the reckonings that would come later were really instrumental in guiding my adulthood and while it all sucked during and I still ache over the pain I caused…I see how it all was part of the bigger journey to who I am today and I’m not sure I would have made it here without all of the bumps in the road.
Do I wish Kim had figured out all of her shit sooner? DEFINITELY. Do I envy people who figured out their identity in their teen years? ONE HUNDRED PERCENT. But do I think there’s anything wrong with taking longer in that journey? Nope. Honestly, I don’t think my journey to figure myself out will every be complete because I am still changing. I’m a more political person now than I was 15 years ago. I’m a more artistic person now than I was 10 years ago. I’m a more chill Mom than I was 2 years ago.
I guess it’s important to both BE AUTHENTIC and also BE FLUID because you don’t want to miss the chance to mold with the challenges life gives you.