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Posts Tagged ‘iconic self’

Let’s revisit your school picture from seventh grade, shall we? No doubt, it’s tragic. Beyond the unfortunate hair, what you probably see is a very uncertain self lurking behind that all-too-eager smile.

For many of us, life took an abrupt left once adolescence reared its awkward head. Maybe we were one of the cool kids. Maybe we were irretrievably awkward. In either case, we were filled with self doubt. Self-definition came in the form of how someone treated us at lunch or whether the phone rang that night. So silly. And yet.

You have to wonder how much of that insecure self stays with us into adulthood, whispering in our ear, making us second guess our decisions, and nudging us to replay invisible patterns etched long ago. Are we still looking for approval from erstwhile best friends? Is there a part of us that still wants to please the arbiters of seventh grade taste — or show them up? Hello there, mean girls! Take a look at me now!

This all came to mind this week, thanks to two heartfelt essays by screenwriter Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who clearly took a hit once she hit double-digits. In the first piece, from the LA Times, she addresses her battered high school self:

To describe me as unpopular is an insult to those who were chess geeks and 98-pound weaklings. I was friendless; I was hated. I spent four years eating lunch alone, sitting by myself, feeling alienated. All this time later, I am still unsure of the subtlety that separates the girls who attract from those who repel. But anyone who has experienced the narrowed eyes of someone regarding you with contempt, or understood that the two girls whispering nearby were talking about you, knows when a cause is lost. My social status was assessed immediately. From my first day at school, nobody greeted me. Nobody offered to show me around. When I asked a preppy-looking girl where chemistry was, she said, “Up your ass, loser.”

The second essay, which ran a few days later in Salon, provides the backstory of how she went from popular to pariah the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and then jumps into the present, where Brodesser-Akner reveals that she is now friends with her tormentors on Facebook:

After accumulating college friends and ex-boyfriends, as we all do when we join Facebook, I took a chance and looked up Barbara. With the nervousness that accompanied me on every bus trip to school following my fall from grace, I pressed the button that would send her a friend request. Immediately, I received confirmation: She had agreed, finally, to be my friend. Brave now, I found Alison, then Amy, then Nancy. I was euphoric. Here I am, back in the inner sanctum. I sort through their pictures, their posts, their lives. I cheer their triumphs, their babies’ birthdays, photos from their ski trips. I cobble together the story of how life has been since we knew each other, deliberately, forcefully forgetting how it was we parted.

I check their updates and their statuses with eagerness each day. Like an addict, I am euphoric when I am practicing my addiction, remorseful and self-hating when I’m not. I am shocked at how easily I have forgiven these people. I am filled with the warm light of acceptance; I am wrapped in the cozy blanket of belonging.

Happy ending, right? Except for the fact that she has been pummeled by many of the anonymous comments that followed her essay.

Which leads me to wonder if our inner seventh grader is an indelible part of our iconic self. Could that tattered adolescent baggage be one reason we are so eager to please? Why decisions come hard? Why we judge ourselves by others judging? Is there still a tiny part of us that worries about being mocked by the mean girls?

I can’t help thinking this lingering desire to fit in impacts women more than men, especially as we navigate the somewhat unfamiliar turf of the workplace. Because we are unsure of the rules, do we take reactions more seriously? Are we more tentative? Continually looking over our shoulder to make sure those jerks in the corner aren’t whispering about us? Worse yet, do we avoid even putting ourselves out there, sticking with Mr. Safe Path, so we can avoid the risk of rejection?

I wonder. But meanwhile, even as I type this, I hear an annoying little voice, whispering in my ear: What will (choose one) think? To which the only possible answer is: Who cares.

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graduationOne of the problems with decisions is we sometimes make them before we’re ready. Sometimes we’ve forced ourselves into a box. Sometimes we entered that box with a skip and a smile. Sometimes it’s been a full-court press to please the iconic self. But as the saying goes (or did I make this up?): Decide in haste, repent in leisure. Quite possibly, a few years down the line, we’ll look over our shoulders, second guess ourselves, and wished we’d opted for Door Number One, wondering what for the love of God were we thinking.

I bring this up not because of that Hefty bag full of extremely unfortunate clothing I donated to the Good Will this weekend — but because I just came across a Newsweek essay (and cover story) advocating a three year college degree.

I vote no, as in Absolutely Not.

I can think of any number of reasons why the argument, proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander, former education secretary under the first Pres. Bush, is an idea that stinks. But chief among them is the fact that making a choice that you won’t regret in the morning is often a function of growing up. Which is, in good part, the work of higher education.

But sure, I get it. Three years versus four means saving a boatload of money when it comes to tuition and living expenses. For the vast majority of students, it means a smaller debt load tucked into the diploma. For most kids, that’s crucial. And yet. An accelerated degree means choosing a path at, oh, age 18. (Think back to your adolescent self — would you really want that person to dictate your grown-up life? Gives me the willies just to think.) Then sticking hard to the program for three years without a taste of anything else, and jumping into the real world at just about the same time you’re legal to order your first martini.

Hmmm. Can you even qualify for a lease on an apartment at that age without your parents to co-sign? I digress.

But let’s back up. Sure, the plan could work for some students, those super-focused and dedicated souls who knew they wanted to be doctors or lawyers or engineers when they were five and never blinked. College in three? Done! Straight to grad school? Yes! And more power to them. But most of us? Not so focused. Where’s the time for exploration? Reflection? Discovering passions? Isn’t that part of what college is all about?

What I see here is a recipe for regret. Or a return ticket to university life some ten years down the line. Undecided? Here we come.

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