The anticipation settling into my gut before the first day of school was no unfamiliar feeling. As I began the trek up the crowded Boston Latin School stairs while observing strangers file past me, I assured myself I was surrounded by people who had no idea who I was; this year was my chance for a fresh start. I would no longer play the role of the “shy Asian girl” that was painfully easy to take advantage of. The environment my previous school had put me in blessed me with the mentality of either be the bully or be the bullied. I refused to be pushed around (once again), but my moral compass still existed (although maybe my cardinal directions were slightly jumbled); and I knew I didn’t and couldn’t be at the other end of the stick.
As one can imagine, middle-school-me battled the unfortunate and lethal combination of shallow insecurities and social paranoia. For a majority of seventh grade, I remained in denial about how I projected my unhealthy mentality onto my peers. I wasn’t a bully or outright mean, but I was difficult. I was hard to work with and my sense of humor was sometimes ignorant to other people’s feelings. (I promise I was no Regina George though.) I was convinced the only way to earn respect was to radiate a certain aura — or vibe — that inflicted a very, very subtle sense of fear.
When the pandemic hit and all my extracurriculars were put to a halt and school was transferred to Zoom, I had a lot of time on my hands. Some may even say too much time. But this plethora of time offered me the opportunity to finally do some self reflection — in other words, I psychoanalyzed myself. At first, this deteriorated my mental health. My wake-up call was so abrupt, and I realized, more than anything, I didn’t want to be idolized, but I wanted to be liked and accepted for who I was. Something I had never experienced previously.
But who am I? I had spent so long suppressing the authenticity of my identity that I felt like I had no substance. Had I become…boring?
When everything was forced online, I had a new opportunity to reinvent myself and nurture my social life into something I can be proud of. I persisted in maintaining friendships and connections with people who meant a lot to me in our brief time in-person and was lucky enough to meet people through mutuals via the internet. I was gifted the chance to develop a persona that is empathetic, relatable, funny, and most importantly, me.
Despite not being able to hang out or even meet anyone in real life to avoid contracting COVID-19, I formed some of the most genuine connections through overcoming my fear of Facetime and destigmatizing Discord. But I definitely acquired certain spinal issues from spending hours hunched over my computer.
I’ve always tried to be as honest as I can with myself; I like to think that I’m my own biggest humbler — and all of this came down to how self-centered I was.
Through experiencing different types of communities and environments, I figured out that other people do not constantly have it out for me, meaning I don’t and shouldn’t constantly have it out for other people. In reality, no one (that possesses a certain level of maturity) cares enough about you to be your outright enemy.
Being the bully versus the bullied isn’t on a stick, but rather a spectrum. There’s a median because our lives are not cliche coming of age movies where people fight over who wore pink better on Wednesdays. Push against the mentality of “kill or be killed”; don’t be that egocentrical — the world does not revolve around an individual.
The teenage era is one where people feel the most vulnerable. Insecurities are maxed out, and it’s like walking on eggshells trying not to embarrass yourself or commit social suicide (if that even exists in reality). Regardless of how difficult it may be, don’t put energy into wondering how others perceive you. I had spent so long fearing the idea of being disliked that I craved validation to an unhealthy point — I thought it could make my existence feel justified. I couldn’t have been more wrong: my existence didn’t need to be justified and validation is not synonymous with being liked. Being fake and liked by everyone is exceedingly worse than being true to oneself and only accepted by a few. Believe me, the ones who think middle school is heaven on earth are the ones who peak as teens.