Finding "Yourself"

High school is when you're supposed to find yourself. I've heard it. You've heard it. In fact, I bet we're all familiar with this cheesy cliché that pops up over dinner conversations and fireside chats with our older siblings or parents. You've probably rolled your eyes upon hearing it, offered a sarcastic rebuttal, or completely ignored it. My advice, however, is to listen instead.

As a current junior, I think I can safely say that change does happen in high school. I can't name one person I know who has maintained the same personality, tastes, or hobbies they once had when they first walked through those daunting double doors. Instead of pretending like you will not be marked by your high school years, open your arms to embrace the process. Just remember that in your pursuit of finding yourself (whoever that is), you should not let anyone else interfere.

I'm guilty of doing the exact opposite. For a long time I let my friends influence me. Going into high school, I was someone who was anxious and looking for a way to "fit in." (Cue image of freshmen me dressed in some sort of sub par getup, running my fingers through a nest of hair.) Although I wasn't dying for popularity or social status, I tried my hand at making myself interesting to people -- and that usually meant doing things that I didn't necessarily like. I ignored my own interests for a while and instead, pretended I was a carbon copy of my friends. Long story short, that doesn't work.

I quickly became aware that I wasn't focused enough on being me, and I was bothered by it. Since then, I've buckled down and have stopped worrying about what others are doing. You can too. Without further ado, here is my guide for embracing individuality in high school:

1. Know what you want. Notice the italicized you. That's because the idea of finding yourself (for me, at least) is really based on your goals and ideals. It's not about what your parents want. It's not about what your boyfriend or girlfriend wants. It's not even about what your friends want. You will find that if you try to shape your life around someone else's idea of perfection, you will fall flat every time. If you instead embrace your own idea of happiness, there's a good chance you will be more satisfied with the outcome.

2. Find what you like and stick to it. So what if every other girl is obsessed with Pretty Little Liars and One Direction while you're curled up on your couch listening to "Indie Makeout Radio" on Songza and immersing yourself in a good book? (Guilty, by the way.) There is absolutely nothing wrong with that! If all of your friends are partying on the weekends, and you're writing articles for your high school publication (also guilty) then by all means do it! Don't make yourself miserable by doing things you'd rather not be doing because if you do that, who wins? Absolutely no one!

3. Don't let others criticize your choices. This is easier said than done. But, if you strongly believe in a decision you've made, you shouldn't let others sway your opinion. (Example: my decision to start dressing how I want to this year and stop being a numbskull when it comes to fashion.) Your friends may begin to comment, unintentionally knocking your ego down a bit. If this happens, don't let it get you down. Just simply smile, nod, and continue to do whatever you were doing in the first place. If it makes you happy, then why not?

A week ago, my AP Lang teacher asked everyone in her class to come up with a six word memoir that stood for something in our lives. Toward the end of presentation day, a tall, lanky guy dressed in a mismatched assortment of platypus print clothes and crocs walked to the front of the class. People whispered about him and even let out a good laugh or two. With a smile, he revealed his six-word memoir to the class: "I don't want to be YOU."

I've thought about that moment many times since it happened. For me, his six-word memoir hit home like no other. It's because he is exactly right. So what if he looks different? So what if he comes to school donning Phineas and Ferb-themed garb? So what if others consider his choice in shoes absolute "social suicide"? He deserves to be happy with himself. So do you.