Thursday, April 3, 2014

Through Someone Else's Eyes

I was standing outside the picnic shelter when Melinda approached from the side, looped her arm through mine, and said, "Let's walk." This sounds very chummy, but it was more than a little odd.
Melinda and I were attending our 20th high school class reunion. Melinda and I probably attended thirteen years of school together in a graduating class of 187, so we definitely knew each other. But Melinda and I weren't friends, and what followed was likely the longest conversation we'd ever had.

As we circled around the park, her arm still looped through mine, Melinda apologized for being mean to me in high school. The funny thing is, I didn't even know. She was not a known nemesis. If she spoke ill of me or spread rumors about me, I didn't know about it. I laughed, told her not to worry about it, and began to head back to my friends.

Melinda wasn't done. She kept my arm and kept talking. She said, "I was so mean to you. I would sit in the back of class and talk about you. But you know what? I was jealous. I was jealous of all that you had."

That's when I stopped walking. She had been jealous of me? Was she kidding? In high school, I was only inching out of an awkward phase longer and more atrocious than most. I wasn't popular. I was best known for getting good grades, and what high school kid is jealous of that?

To illustrate my mindset, this is what I looked like in 6th grade. I didn't go anywhere without my Copenhagen snuff painters cap and my purple hooded sweatshirt. I am proudly holding the Meadowlawn Elementary School spelling bee first place trophy. The pants and the polo shirt also are purple.

Melinda continued, "I was jealous of how pretty you were, how good you were at everything, and what a great family you had." I laughed wholeheartedly at the "pretty" comment, but I do have great parents. I suppose I'd never taken the time in high school to consider that maybe other people didn't.

I spent most of high school insecure. I wasn't completely goofy-looking anymore, but I didn't know it. I had a tight group of meaningful friends, but I thought everyone did. I had a long-term boyfriend I really cared about, but I couldn't believe he was going out with me.

Still not all that, but I had made progress by junior year. It was the '80s after all. I loved that (not purple) sweater.

Compared to horror stories I've heard from other women, my insecurities were insignificant. I lacked confidence. When I recall my most regrettable teenage behavior, I can see now that each instance arose from my own insecurities.

I've come a long way since then. While I don't think I'm as smart as I did then, I'm comfortable in my own skin and confident. I like who I am, and I can see why others might like me (and--let's be honest--why others might not, and that's okay too).

A lot of that has come with age, but that single conversation with Melinda gave me a new perspective on my young self. Thanks to Melinda, I was given the gift of seeing how I looked through someone else's eyes, and I looked pretty good. Even back then.

I wish that teenage me would have known how good she had it. I wish she'd had the confidence I do today. She would have been a better friend and a kinder acquaintance. With the wisdom and confidence I have now plus the time and energy I had then, just think of all I could have accomplished.

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Melinda is not her real name.  If this somehow makes it to her: Thank you, "Melinda," for telling me this. Most people would not have. I am better for it, and I think very highly of you.

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To read what other bloggers had to say about "If I knew then what I know now...," please head over to my friend Karen's blog, Dogs Don't Eat Pizza. At the bottom of her post, you will find links to more posts on this subject. I think this could be a really interesting one, don't you?

12 comments:

  1. How wonderful for you and "Melinda" to have had that conversation. Just goes to show that you really don't know what other people are seeing/thinking, or how you might impact their life.

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    1. Yes. I can't imagine having been in her shoes and done the same. Very impressive.

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  2. I think about this a lot -- if only I could impart the wisdom I have now to my teenage and early adult self. In retrospect, all of those things that caused me so much insecurity were either a) ultimately meaningless or b) not so bad after all. The time I spent being concerned about these things could have been applied to a myriad of more interesting pursuits. And here's the killer for me: I know I am going to try to explain this to my girls when they're deep into their teenage insecurities, and they're just not going to get it. Isn't this what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said that youth was wasted on the young?
    Good post, Cyn. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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    1. Youth is wasted on the young, indeed. Looking back, what I worried about was (i) a silly thing and (ii) not really an issue anyway. What a lot of pointless angst.

      I guess all we can do is share our experiences with our girls. They will think we are lame and disregard us, and twenty years later they will realize we were right.

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  3. I always thought you had so much self-confidence. You excelled at so many things. Just think what you could have done had you had the experiences that your children are now enjoying!!!
    Mom

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    1. I think that, for a teenager, I really did. Where I lacked confidence was in social matters, feeling I wasn't pretty enough or cool enough. And, let's be honest, those were not my strong suits! In hindsight, it was kind of silly. I had many close friends and a long-term significant other, all of whom I still count as friends 20+ years later. It's not like I was an outcast, but I struggled some in that area. I think even my friends were a little bit surprised to learn this as we got older and I shared my teenage thoughts with them.

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  4. What a great experience. It's hard to judge ourselves objectively. Not a skill I was good at in High School and one i could be a lot better at now. I had a similar experience at a reunion. One of my friends who I'd hung out a lot with in 7th and 8th grade told me that she credited our time together and my family's love of learning and value of education with her desire to go to college and then grad school. Apparently education wasn't valued in her family and until she spent time with us it was important to her either. This was a total surprise to me. I had no idea that we were so responsible for someone elses life choices. This friend is now a High School Drama Teacher and very good at it too. She's also working on a play.

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  5. Awesome story. Isn't it true that we never know what others think, and sometimes they think so much higher of us than we do for ourselves, if that makes any sense.

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  6. So here's the question: as our children approach and are in their teenage years, how do we get them to benefit from our learnings? Is it even possible? I fear this may be something one has to actually learn for themselves.

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  7. Didn't think I'd ever see those glasses again!

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  8. Isn't it interesting to find out years later what your classmates were really thinking? More than once I've been completely mistaken about what I thought someone else thought about me. I'm so glad those years are over, aren't you? :-)

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