Imagine if you will: a 14-year-old boy wanders the halls of a suburban high school in Aurora, Colorado. He wears large, tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses that seem to cover half his face, and his hair is unfashionably yet comfortably parted on the side (a style he’s worn for most of his life at this point, and can’t imagine wearing it otherwise). He drags a wheeled briefcase behind him, as the mass of textbooks he must studiously carry with him would otherwise be too heavy. Even if this results in ridicule from his fellow students, he is oblivious. He does not have many friends at school outside those he also knows through martial arts, as well as a few fellow misfits in the sci-tech department. He relates better with his teachers than his “peers.” He is smart, but this sometimes manifests as a tendency to finish other people’s sentences or to pontificate in minute detail on favored subjects. He dresses very formally, usually in a buttoned shirt, and even the occasional Hawaiian shirt is always tucked into his pants. In the cafeteria, he tends to eat his sack lunch by himself, often with the company of a book. His greatest annoyance is other students who loiter in the hallways during passing periods, disrupting the flow like blood clots. In class, he is a bit of an overachiever, finishing work early and eagerly asking for more.
I’ve changed a bit since high school.
I’m now in my late 20s and have a bustling social life. I live with my girlfriend, and regularly beat my friends with sticks in visceral, full-contact armored combat. I have long hair and can grow a beard (that to this day my brother is still jealous of). My clothing style is largely composed of jeans and nerdy t-shirts, and my overachieving days are long behind me (even if I still feel guilty about it from time to time). I have to admit, I feel pretty cool.
But I regularly still feel surprised by my life. It’s like part of my self-image is stuck in high school, as that nerdy bookworm who kept to himself and couldn’t imagine enjoying talking to people, let alone having a girlfriend. I never thought I’d have anything resembling a social life, but every Friday night I go hang out with friends; even if we just stay at my friends’ house, we still interact over bad movies and the occasional board game. For someone who doesn’t like sports, I ended up pretty gung-ho for a modern interpretation of medieval swordfighting and fencing. Ask me to show you some of my awesome bruises some time. And for someone who didn’t start dating until late college, things seem to be going pretty well so far. I almost feel like an adult!
I have to wonder if others feel this way, as if you’ve found yourself in a life that your high school incarnation couldn’t even dream of. It reminds me of the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime.” I’m sure there’s something profound to be found here, but I’m not coming up with anything at the moment. I may have to revisit this idea later, as well as its darker side, Impostor Syndrome.
Yes, I can see you very clearly in your high school days. That you have emerged from that confined and well structured phase into a much more unpredictable and extemporaneous role is unsuspected and remarkable. That is a lot of growth in a decade. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will reveal…
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