by: Kara Crawford
You’re now about eight and a half years old and will soon start what is easily the most awkward phase of your life. However, I’m here, writing from 14 years in the future, at 22 years old, to impart my extra 14 years of wisdom on you in one simple message: it gets weirder.
I know, probably not the uplifting message of hope you were expecting from future you. Before you tune me out, please give me a chance to explain myself. As an eight-year-old entering fourth grade, and one who skipped a grade to end up that way, you will inevitably become an automatic lightning rod for the other kids’ constant criticism, teasing, and sadly, even bullying.
During this Most Awkward Phase, you will often feel like the odd-one-out. It won’t be easy at times. There will be times when you would be willing to hide part of who you are or pretend like you’re nothing beyond-the-ordinary in order to blend into the crowd, to be like the other kids. I want to tell you that it’s not worth it.
Everyone’s different, Karita, but those differences are what make us beautiful, and what makes life interesting and worth the living. Everyone has their quirks, but at this point in your life, you are quite worried about your’s making you stand out even more. I promise you that later in life you will see that those quirks really define you in ways you might not yet see.
Your academic interest runs deep and wide. Some might call you a nerd. I’ve really embraced the term these days, because it’s definitely something to be proud of as a part of the whole. I know you’re still in that “I love math” phase, which even in the future time from which I am writing runs quite deep, though not in the same way. Of course, your interests also change and develop over the years, but let’s focus on your present. This is one of those many quirks that make up part of who you are but which you feel the need to hide, because of trying to blend into the crowd.
I could probably go on about your other quirks–that you’re fairly obsessive, that you get really into something when it catches your interest, like the International Space Station and your hope to be involved in bringing about world peace by being an astronaut on it, or Grease. You’re also a passionate and compassionate person, which leads to a lot of tears, more often empathetic than anything. Those are just the more “normal” quirks, too, and only the beginning. I repeat, it gets weirder.
I’m not going to tell you to change anything in particular, because that would just be controlling. Plus it never works out in the movies when someone goes back in time to try to change things, except in Harry Potter (you’ll understand soon). What I will tell you, though, is that one of the most important things I’ve learned in our 22 years of existence is that the only way to go is to enjoy and embrace the quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Here’s another bit of wisdom I can impart: life is messy, really just one big hot mess. It’s beautiful, and certainly enjoyable, but it’s definitely messy. You know what,though? That’s how we learn and grow. What are we, as human beings, if not the sum of our experiences, both good and bad, steps forward and missteps, successes and failures?
So continuing with the reassurance I’m sure you’ll need over the next five-and-a-half years of awkward and messy, it does get better. It stays messy, but it does get better. You will manage to find a great group of friends who have your back, and even though some will abandon and betray you, the majority stick through it all with you. Even once you begin finding yourself more, revealed through those quirks, you don’t become socially outcast. Embracing those quirks and holding your head up high is a good thing. Love yourself and love others, and the rest will follow.
Don’t panic yet, but you’ll move halfway through your freshman year of high school, and even though you’ll act at the moment like the world is ending, the move will really be good for you. It is in the new high school where you will finally learn to love yourself, weirdness and all, and to stop worrying so much about what others will think of you and how they will react when they find out that you’re young for your grade or any of your other quirks.
For whatever reason, your new high school will bring out all the weird in you and will knock the self-consciousness right out. You’ll find yourself ready and able to love yourself, and that will reflect itself in your relationships with others, for the better. Throughout the remainder of high school and college, you’ll experience some truly weird changes in yourself and in your life, but you’ll no longer be afraid of the weird. You’ll embrace it – it’s who you are, of course.
With that change in attitude, you will be able to move forward in life with a renewed perspective and confidence and without the burden of constant worry about how people will react to you, and that is about as liberating as it comes. You’ll be able to build friendships without the paranoia that comes with self-consciousness, and people will be able to love the whole you.
I apologize now for having used some big words in this letter, but as I have photographic proof that you read the dictionary as another of your quirks at that age, I’m just going to assume that you’ll be smart enough to look up any words you may not know.
There’s not much I can teach you and very little advice that I can give you, but I hope that you have learned that it’s okay to be yourself, quirks and all. Life is messy, but it’s the hot mess that truly makes it beautiful. Embrace your quirks, and let your freak flag fly. You can make it through the Most Awkward Phase and still be yourself, so do everything in your power to make sure that is the case. And always, always remember: it gets weirder.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.