Thank you 8th grade me. Thank you for your innocence, your insecurities, your imperfections. Thank you for being an awesomely awkward and angsty teen. And thank you for having the wisdom, from an early age, to also be willing to grow and learn, to question things. Thank you for paving the way for this weird ass path I’ve been on. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I forgive you. And I love you.
In middle school I desperately wanted to be popular.
Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was well liked by most people (since by then I was pretty adept at the art of people pleasing, ha) and I definitely had a little core group of awesome friends.
But, I was by no means one of the “popular kids”. I remember standing by my locker, I think it must’ve been in 8th grade, being happy enough with my middle school existence, but often staring longingly at the lockers across the green, where the popular kids were. I wanted to be part of their world.
I grew more bold toward the end of 8th grade. By the time I was ready to start planning my 13th birthday, I decided to take a risk.
I would throw myself a big party. And I would invite THEM. Gulp 😱
What if no one came and everyone laughed at me? What if they all came, and then all laughed at me? TO MY FACE!
I was terrified. But I did it anyway. My mom helped me rent a room at a hotel in Redondo Beach. We hired a DJ. I sent out invitations. Then I sat by the phone, in agony, praying that someone would RSVP. At first, crickets. I was convinced no one would come.
Then eventually, the RSVPs started to roll in. Lots of them actually. Even some of the cool kids said yes. I was excited but skeptical. One girl called and casually asked who else was coming.
I froze. My heart sank. All my fears about the popular kids were coming true. She’ll only come if the other ones come. See?! They don’t care about the little people like me. I mumbled that I wasn’t sure yet, but offered to read some names from the invite list. She must have heard some names she liked, because she said “ok great, I’ll come!”
The day came and I stood in the empty hotel room, a mix of confusing emotions swirling around in me. Proud of myself for taking the risk. Excited at the prospect of a fun party. And almost nauseous by how outside my comfort zone I had been for weeks.
I can still see my outfit clearly. White denim shorts with a belt. White T-shirt. A patterned vest. (Remember the vests?! Omg, the 90’s.) I had a perm (because, obvi) and a side part and had blow dried my bangs. I’m sure I was wearing some jewelry from Claire’s Boutique. Probably a peace sign choker.
And then they came. They all came. And it turned out to be a really fun party. We danced. We opened presents. We ate cake. It was innocent and fun and for a few hours I felt accepted and free.
That day taught me a lot of things. It taught me that taking risks is important. That my assumptions about people are not always true.
It taught me that while, sure, a few of the popular kids were popular for the wrong reasons, most of them were just normal kids, who were probably popular because they were extroverted, friendly, and brave enough to connect with people.
It also confirmed to me that I wanted to break out of my shell, stop playing it so safe, and connect with lots of different people.
When I got to high school I took very intentional steps to do so. I took a public speaking class, two years of drama, and challenged myself to engage and connect more in the social circles I found myself in. And it worked. I loved high school, had great friends in several different groups and finally let go of the desperate need to be like by any particular social group.
Now, at 37 years old, as I spend more time outside my comfort zone and find myself addressing a bigger audience, I find some of those old familiar fears coming back to whisper in my ear. Right now they’re extra loud because I’m forcing myself to be vulnerable and put my latest offering out in the world.
Fortunately, I have the tools and wisdom now to see them for what they are. When they show up, I greet them – my inner critics, my ego, and the fears that I’ve come to know so well. I thank them for so reliably doing the job they’re meant to do — keeping me safe.
I also hear the voice of the little girl inside me. 8th grade me. Wondering if anyone will show up to the party. What if no one comes? And everyone laughs? It’s amazing how strong those past beliefs and fears can still feel.
And then I also hear the obvious strength in her tiny voice, the power that’s always been there, urging me to take the risks and do the things.
So, I tell the fears to kindly fuck off. Because, I’ve got this.
I’ve got my big girl pants on now and I know that it doesn’t actually matter what anyone else thinks. I can speak my truth, take inspired action, and create things. I’m always going to be okay because I am enough and I am worthy and everything else is just a fun experiment in this amazing journey of life that I’m on.