Adults are weird and illogical. They wear fanny packs and ask you what you’re eating even when it’s really evident that you’re eating crackers or a grilled cheese sandwich. They always want to know if you’re dating anyone, and they act surprised when they got caught in rush hour traffic even if they’ve been driving for over half their lives. They think 2 AM is really late and say “you’re welcome” when you thank them for a compliment. They even iron their clothes!
They also tell you things like, “Someday, the things you’re worried about now will seem so silly.” The first time I remember being told that was in sixth grade. I was at the mall with my mom to shop for school clothes. As we were walking past the makeup counters, I asked my mom if she thought that kids would like me if I wore lip gloss. “I don’t know,” she said. Later that afternoon, she told me that the things that felt like a big deal now wouldn’t feel like a big deal later.
The lip gloss turned out to not be a big deal. I never wore makeup that year and was just fine. I spent my weeks studying and my weekends with my friends. We had giant sleepovers where we would eat Cheetos and ice cream for dinner and do karaoke to Hannah Montana songs, even though we always talked about how much we hated her at school.
Still, I don’t think that worrying about lip gloss at the mall was silly or stupid. I was always wondering how my life would be different if I looked like the pretty girls. They wore Nike Shocks, white thermal shirts under baby blue polos, ribbons in their hair, and lip gloss. They made a point to twist and turn their legs so that their calves caught the light just right. Nike Shocks were too expensive for me, and I never put a ribbon in my hair because I needed it to cover my hideous face, which at one point that year had fungus on it from ringworm. Like every other person ever, I felt like shit about how I looked and compared myself endlessly with these other girls. I felt that I was somehow less valuable than they were. Less special. It made me timid. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it didn’t feel good.
I felt like shit about every other thing about myself. I was too ugly, too stupid, too incompetent at theater and sports and math. I hated myself for never speaking in class, and hated myself if I spoke in class. I fought with my brother all the time and felt like shit about that, too. I thought my parents hated me. I sat in my room crying and reading all of the time.
Some of those things aren’t a big deal to me anymore. I’m glad I didn’t wear lip gloss, and I’m glad I wore my favorite chunky orange sweater every day instead of something that I wore just because the pretty girls did. And I know now that some of my concerns were extremely shallow. Many of them do seem silly now, but they weren’t to me then. And here’s the thing: I had to worry about them then in order to not care about them now. Having to overcome these things in order to learn and progress, and the incredible difficulty involved in overcoming them, makes those things a really big deal.
I keep on telling myself that everything that’s getting me down now will seem stupid in the future. But that thought doesn’t reassure or encourage me. I usually end up telling myself, This is going to seem stupid in a year, and yet you can’t get over it. You are stupid and worthless and incapable. And the fact that you think that means you are shallow, too, because the problems you have aren’t even that big.
Instead I’m gonna try to tell myself the truth: Everything feels like it has this incredible weight right now, and it does. If you’re going to get over any of it, you’re going to have to work very hard, or else get very lucky and have others help you. Everything you do right now is important, even if it seems dumb later. Getting to “dumb” is hard work. ♦