As a parent, it all seems so silly now.
We all face problems. We all deal with them differently. One way isn’t necessarily better than the other. Until recently, I wasn’t aware how much some of the problems I faced growing up really helped shape who I am today.
For me, it was being a late bloomer. It wasn’t until I was 16 and in my junior year that I even started to hit puberty.
Growing up from a young age, I was the star athlete and soccer player. As others began to hit puberty and sprout up around me, I waited. I went from being the fastest kid to struggling to even keep up. What used to be a strength of mine, slowly developed into more of a weakness. And I had to learn to cope with this lack of control. I suddenly had to stop focusing on the things that I wanted to change, and focus on what I actually could.
And worst of all were showers in high school sports. Soccer was the first period of the day. There I was, yet to start puberty, with communal shower time with the rest of the soccer team each and every morning. Sure you can hide it for a while. You can avoid showers with the guys for a few weeks.
But I am sure to everyone else, it was obvious. I was petrified. And as always, I made a much bigger deal about it in my head than probably was really necessary.
I spent most of the first year with avoidance. I became very good at flying under the radar. I tried the best I could to stay unnoticed. Showering with shorts signified there was something to hide as much as not showering did. So of course, I was teased. And poked fun at. And it left me feeling insecure and at times left out.
Looking back, the experience helped shape me for the better, and now, I am grateful. Here are the lessons I learned.
1) It’s More of a Reflection of Them. When it comes to being made a fun of, I always found it has a lot more to do with the one doing the teasing than the one receiving. The ones that most consistently poked fun or teased me were the ones with the biggest insecurities themselves (And it’s even more apparent looking back today). Those who felt secure with themselves were actually quick to defend. Sure they would sometimes indulge, but it wasn’t the guys with the most confidence that I shied away from. It was the ones with bigger skeletons than me.
2) We Control The Way We React. Focus intensely on the things you can control and spend very little focusing on things you can’t. Everyday, I was reminded how little control I really had. And for as much as I wished I would start puberty, wishing never changed anything. Controlling the way I reacted and interacted with the world led to the biggest change. I couldn’t eliminate the teasing, but I definitely had some control by how often it happened. And that’s the power we forget to give ourselves. We have control over how we react.
3) The Importance of Empathy. It made me more empathetic. The inner struggle I underwent in school was important and irreplaceable. It helped me develop of a sense of empathy I worry I otherwise may not have had. I could suddenly relate to that struggle of being the center of attention for negative reasons. I suddenly understood that no one enjoys that feeling. And no one deserves that feeling. Anything I can say to even alleviate a little suffering was worthwhile.
4) Everyone Has Demons. It made me realize that everyone has a few demons or a few skeletons in the closet. No one likes to share those deep insecurities, but everyone is troubled by something in one way or another. We always have things we are working on or are trying to improve on. And the skeletons are always scarier to the person dealing with them than it is to people on the outside. We build things up in our head to a crazy level. We let those ideas circle around and around, when all we really need to do is show them some light and let the flame diminish.
These experiences growing up are the ones that shape who we are and who we become. My situation is very trivial to many in comparison – but to me, growing up it was very real. And I internalized way too much as a kid growing up. Rather than pushing through, talking with friends, and reaching out for support, I tended to retreat inwards. I tended to be the one that would shy away from bringing up my insecurities.
And even now – I still have a tendency to retreat and keep things to myself. But slowly – I am starting to see the need for being a little more open. And just accepting myself regardless of others opinions. And let others love or hate me for who I truly am – not just the person I want them to see.
It’s exhausting putting up a front all the time.
No one is perfect. We all struggle.
Just be yourself and be authentic.
People will respect you more for it.