I’ve reconnected with a lot of old friends over the summer, in person. And one thing keeps getting noted about me at one point during these reunions: apparently, I haven’t changed at all.
And that’s a good thing, according to them.
Personally, I’m a little torn about the observation; I really hope that I’ve changed since high school and college. I hope I’m…better. Less oblivious? More resilient? Certainly more mature, at least!
Part of this apprehension, of course, is that uncomfortable hindsight that comes with age; looking back at my younger self, I can’t help but cringe at some of the things I did, said, and how I behaved. But I also worked very hard as I “grew up” to distance myself, literally and figuratively, from the person I was. I left my high school friends behind to go to college, and then left my college friends behind to do a PhD. Then I changed countries, just to make sure I really had some distance.
It’s weird to be told that a) you haven’t changed and b) that’s something to be celebrated when most of your life has been spent trying to change exactly who you are because you were made to feel there was something fundamentally wrong with who you were. I was made to feel weird and awkward for being too extroverted, too loud, too confident…Just generally too much. Everywhere. So all the things I was, all the things that I am, were (badly) tamped down, and moving into academia didn’t really help to alleviate my securely-held belief that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. And that if I just could be…less like me, I could get a job, find friends, and just be happier.
For the first time in my professional career, I’m working somewhere where who I am is the reason why I was hired. All of it: my skills, my personality, everything. For the first time, I am being appreciated for who I am. Is this what people mean when it comes to “fit”? But I can’t help but noticed that there are many different types of people working on this team, and we all fit. Is it less, then, about me and more about an overall environment that values difference? I’ve now worked in environments that didn’t care who I was, that tried to police who I am, and one that celebrates it. Imagine, if you can, where I prefer to work (and which one is going to get my best).
It would be ridiculous to think that aging and life haven’t changed me in some ways. I went to grad school! I changed countries! I got married! I had two kids! I had a lot of jobs! I became quasi-internet famous within higher education circles (so, not at all)! I don’t think I would have been able to adapt to all of this change without some sort of strong sense of…if not who I am, at least what I wanted and what I value. I can say that hasn’t changed much over the years. I accomplished what I wanted to in my life, if not professionally, then definitely personally. And professionally, things are getting better.
So I guess maybe I haven’t changed. At least, I’ve stopped trying to change, and started actually just being ok with who I am. And maybe now, away from the weird environments of high school and college, being who I am is more clearly an asset, rather than a liability. And who knows, maybe my friends liked me a lot more than I thought they did back then.
It will never stop being weird, though. But it feels good to laugh loudly and smile and geek out and play and get excited and take up space and just be all those things I used to feel bad about being.
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