Even as a young child, I never truly felt my age. Perhaps there was something about me that always felt like a balancing act; a little too young but a little too old at the same time. I juggled between feeling extremely young in comparison to my friends, who were already talking about boyfriends and girlfriends in the fourth grade, but too old for my friends in the eighth grade who still wanted to spend slumber parties playing with Barbie dolls and making immature prank calls at two o’clock in the morning. It was almost as if I played a wide-eyed, innocent child by day and the annoyed motherly figure as my alter ego. I was constantly on the verge of growing up but also still reveling in my childhood. There I was; stranded, half-afraid to grow up and half-ready to bloom.

I started my first year of high school with an undeveloped mindset, my only childish priority being the goal of achieving decent grades, getting people to really like me, and having cute Instagram-worthy outfits every single day. I began my freshman year with a rather large group of friends from middle school, excellent grades, and extremely high expectations for the year. I had ended the eighth grade with flying colors, good memories, and happy years (despite the long bouts of adolescent awkwardness.)

The transition from middle school to high school proved to be an extremely difficult one. I was used to having multiple classes with all of my best friends, who were always around no matter what.. But at that time, we had all been split up into different classes and I, a budding introvert, was forced to meet and talk with new faces and increasing amounts of unfamiliar people. Despite my desire to gain acceptance from my peers, I was still so held back and haunted by the idea of judgment.

Because of my all-consuming desire to be known and thought of as spectacular, I began to devote my time and energy desperately trying to impress the more popular and beautiful kids in my classes because that’s exactly what I wanted to be. Soon, I had devised a mask that screamed “Look at me! Look at how interesting I am! Look!” But that was not the case. A mask was a mask, and this false persona of longing had begun to deteriorate the person I was under the mask; a fragile, self-conscious girl who never felt beautiful no matter what circle of people she was able to fight her way into.

Unlike my old friends, these people were different. They were, like myself, so consumed with their ideas of status and social hierarchy that they had lost a true grip on their true identities and image. Blinded by the idea of notoriety and high school fame, it was almost as if I had sensed from the beginning that they were truly just afraid. Terrified of their own vulnerability. And because of this, I became terrified too.

This was the year I truly lost myself. There were so many unfulfilled expectations that I felt incapable of living up to. To be liked, you had to be pretty. To be loved, you had to be skinny. To be adored, you had to look like a Victoria’s Secret model in a skin-tight dress. To be considered perfect, you had to be clumsy so that guys would think you were cute. I was pretty, even beautiful, but the fourteen year old version of me couldn’t see this because she was so blinded by the twisted ideas the other girls her age would talk about during lunch. How important it was to have curves in all the right places so that boys would look at you. To have perfect eyebrows, long legs, eyelashes like plastic brooms. Because of this, I fell into a devastating cycle of depression that always seemed to destroy everything understandable the second I could actually begin to understand it.

It was weird, how the idea of perfection began to eat me alive. Once so academically gifted, bubbly, and full of life, I had turned into someone I couldn’t even recognize in the mirror. The straight A student who took home her first D in math class and shrugged it off. The girl who ran to her phone the second she got home so she could post angsty tweets about how much she hated fake people. But she was becoming one, because the second she clicked send was the moment she realized that she didn’t want to always have to be a puppet to her darkest thoughts anymore.

I am mid-second year in high school now, and although I still have intense moments of despair and insecurity, I can honestly say that I feel pride and acceptance when it comes to the idea of the person I am and the person I am going to be. I am just one year older, but I feel as if I have aged significantly in terms of maturity. Sixteen and bright-eyed, I have come to terms with the knowledge that I will never be anyone but myself. I still have yet to know what I am going to do, but I am going to make it great nevertheless. I do not need the popularity or a large amount of followers. I need people who want to see me grow, who motivate me to become the best version of myself possible- and those people alone.

I’ve changed my mind a thousand times about what I want to be when I’m older. As a child, I desired to be an author and illustrator of children’s books, which then turned into a professional ballerina. An actress, a forensic anthropologist, a pediatric surgeon, a mother, and a traveler- and yet I still haven’t decided where to incorporate my passions.

This year was the year I realized that it is all okay. It is, and it will be. I am young, bursting with energy, and I am not supposed to have it all figured out. For now, I am going to focus on spreading the happiness I have just recently revisited for the first time in eternity, and I am going to spread bursts of it everywhere I go. I am going to be myself, and not the crazed version of myself that society craves me to be, and I am not going to be fearless.

That’s the thing. The world is large, terrifying, and confusing. I am going to have a collection of fears that I will only learn how to overcome with time. But will I let these fears eat me alive and force me to live with my mask, my façade exposed to the world?

No. I am going to conquer them with both of my hands, even if they cannot help but shake, and declare to the entire world that I am strong enough. These two small yet powerful hands have the power to shape the path of where my journey will begin.

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