In high school, I spent most of the piddling years looking up to certain girls, wishing I could be them. Why couldn't I have their attention, their fame, their status? Why wasn't I looked at with admiration and envy? Why could those girls pull off overalls and scrunchies, and I ended up looking like an awkward cousin from "7th Heaven"? Throughout my adolescence, I felt shackled by the chains of suburbia and weighed down by the opinions of my peers and the reputation they had cast on me since the day I shaved off half of my eyebrows in middle school.
It wasn’t that I was necessarily unpopular, but I wasn’t admired. I spent my adolescence stalking the shadows, following the trends and dreaming of a time when I wouldn’t be the one people forgot went to our high school or labeled as "unoriginal" or "unimportant."
It wasn't until senior year of high school that I realized college wasn't going to be liberating for the reasons my peers were looking forward to it; it wasn’t about the beer bongs, sexual rendezvous or freedom from the rules of our overprotective suburban parents. It was going to free me because no one was going to know me. For the first time in 18 years, I could start anew. I could be whoever I wanted.
But who was I going to be? How would I define this new person? I couldn’t be the sexy Latina with the sexy Spanish accent (which I did try a few times, only to realize white blonde girls aren’t easily confused with sultry Latinas; and I was verging on getting myself punched in the face).
I tried being the free-spirited slut with the crop tops and high wasted jean shorts, then found myself unable to fulfill the duties of a slutty hippie (Bonaroo was just too dirty). By junior year of college, I found myself having what many have defined as a quarter-life crisis. I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. One friend had gone so far as calling me "a hot mess."
I then realized that reinventing yourself isn’t about creating an alternate personality; it's about expanding and recreating what you already have and who you already are.
"Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Recreate yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image, rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.” -- Robert Greene
I took a cold, hard look at myself and decided that I couldn’t work with something I didn’t have. I had to examine my flaws and my qualities, and figure out the kind of person I could become when enhancing those, albeit few redeeming qualities. The pivotal moment came when I realized I could never be anyone but myself, so I needed to stop copying everyone else.
Your interests and your goals change as you continually evolve and grow as a person. I started taking an active interest in my hobbies and pursuits, and I let that define me. I gained confidence and a self-assurance I never had before. I looked at who I wanted to be in five years, how I wanted people to look at me, and I cast myself in that mold.
As Hemingway said, "If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer." As we’ve all learned, nothing is as strong or potent as perception. If you believe you are the best, people will look at you that way. However, it’s important to take a definitive stance on what you’re the best at.
You move forward or you move back; there's no in-between. Staying where you are is as unproductive and unnatural as moving backwards, especially in your early twenties. You should constantly be growing, changing and evolving. As you come in connection with many different people, situations and obstacles, you should be absorbing those experiences and taking what's important and interesting to you and letting that mold you into the person you want to be.
Only the weak-minded let people put them in the chains, let society and their peers dictate who they are going to be. Every year you should be looking back at yourself and scoffing at the person you used to be, because this year, you are that much stronger and defined as a person. Every year should be another year you are reinventing yourself and reestablishing yourself as a person to be reckoned with.
There is nothing holding you back from being the person you always imagined you could be (unless it’s a sultry Latina or loose hippie). There is nothing stopping you but yourself. So, decide who you are going to be, which version of yourself is going to command attention and respect, and mold yourself into that image. Be the quiet, mysterious one, if that’s how you see yourself and if you’re good at not talking. Be the life of the party; be the trendsetter, the fashionista. Be the cocky assh*le, for all I care. Define who you are and make sure everyone knows.
There is no shame in casting off your past and your old self. There is no shame in leaving your old self behind and creating someone completely new. Just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and that the person you are becoming is continually gaining respect.