I’m not exactly sure why I’ve been thinking about high school a lot lately, but I have. Weird. Because it wasn’t really a fun time in my life. It was actually…four years of mostly nothing. Stagnation. Boredom. Mild to moderate (okay to maybe severe) annoyance with the designed social structure and the rules laid out by what seems like several generations or maybe even eons before I got there and wondering why in the hell everyone clung so fervently to those cliches. Cliques. Social hierarchies. “It’s the way we’ve always done things.”
Not that I’m totally shitting on or dismissing tradition. I get it. I find comfort in routine and ritual and predictability too. But like…here’s my recurrent thought right now…the broken record in my head keeps playing this…
I only got yearbooks my sophomore and junior years of high school. And I didn’t fill the pages with autographs, nor did I sign many myself. (I’m sure you’re SHOCKED.) But even of the signatures I did collect, I got a lot of repeats of the same tired sentiment. I mean, maybe that’s what high school kids are capable of. Repetition. Tradition. Conformity. It’s what we’re all taught to do in school, really…particularly high school. So I got a lot of this phrase:
“Don’t ever change.”
Sometimes followed by hearts and smiley faces…the old school precursor to emojis. Haha! I get the intended meaning in that phrase. If meant sincerely, it means that person likes who they see you as…who you are to them…so much they always want you to be exactly that way. Forever. It’s flattering in a way, definitely. But really? That’s telling someone to not grow. To not evolve. To not learn. Stop where you are and don’t change. I know no one really means it like that. Most yearbook signers don’t even mean it at all; it’s just shit you write in yearbooks. But it’s always how I’ve seen that phrase.
I mean, yeah…change can be scary. And it can be bad. So lots and lots of folks fear change. They avoid it. I get it. My mom moves her furniture around weekly, sometimes more often. She never goes to bed at the same time. Before she retired, she never went to or came home from work at the same time (although, it was, respectively, never late, and always late…just not the same times). She’s always shopping for new stuff because she tires of her old stuff. I don’t do any of that. So maybe it seems like I fear change. I’ll admit that I’ve never been a person who enjoys change just for the sake of changing. But I don’t fear it. I’m actually one of those sick people who anticipates and nearly always LIKES change. At least when it comes to my self awareness and relationships and goals I’ve set. Change can also be good. And even the times I felt like, ‘Ugh. Change…’ like when I had to move schools in 7th grade; leaving a place that was comfortable to a scary, new, bigger, louder, very different place…looking back? That change was good. I know I’m all Pollyanna and shit, and that’s too much for a lot of people, but there’s good to be found in almost every change, because change leads to growth. Personal growth. Relationship growth. Societal growth. And if not growth, at least awareness.
I know that’s easy for me to say, and it’s slightly hypocritical. Hindsight makes me like change and fear it less, but in the moment? I’m always still scared. That’s what social anxiety basically IS…
“What if I tell this person X about myself and they never speak to me again?”
“What if I don’t do what this person wants? Will they not love me anymore?”
“If everyone knows I feel like Y, no one will support me.”
“I can’t say/do this thing I want because of this person/these people’s projected bad reaction…”
I’ve been in all those places. I still go to most of them fairly often, even though they’re not fun places to visit. And social anxiety doesn’t respond to logic in the moment very often, but when I study the questions outside of a spiral episode, or when a friend has come to me for advice about something like this stuff, I can always see the hard truth in all of them.
If you tell a person something meaningful and vulnerable about yourself with their consent, and then they never speak to you again? They were never really your person. If a person’s care for you depends on you being 100% compliant to their wishes 100% of the time, their care isn’t that valuable. And frankly…people like that seem to always move the target when it comes to their appeasement anyway; it’s impossible to please them. There’s a rare position or feeling or choice that NO ONE who loves you will support (there are some…hurting other people…hurting yourself without trying to get better…but that’s about it). And forfeiting your own calm and safety and happiness to avoid someone else’s uncontrollable reaction only hurts you in the long run (and sometimes the short term too).
We all put those brakes on, though. We all place those limitations on ourselves sometimes, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but in down times…when I’m NOT feeling very Pollyanna and optimistic about people and life in general…I wonder ‘what if’ and ‘what could’ve been’ and ‘what really was going on with that.’ And I can live in my contented ‘now,’ and look forward to future brightness, usually, but deep down? I still want those answers.
So I wrote yesterday about how I’d do my life over again, exactly as is, because I love my life, exactly as is, and that’s 100% accurate and true. For ME. But I can very easily see how and why some other people would change things. They were afraid to change in the moment. They were afraid to make the catalyst action for change in the moment, for whatever reason, and if THEY knew then what they know now…in their hindsight after the initial panic of change…they WOULD change it. And maybe they SHOULD change it. And maybe they CAN change it. Up to and including…after they’re certain it’s too late to change it.
My book, Waiting, is also about THAT.
It’s on sale for 5-6 more days in ebook format and can be purchased here.