Everything I Need to Know I Learned When I Was 17

A few months ago, I was having a momentary freak-out about, well, some trivial thing that I don’t remember, when suddenly I realized: I was a lot more confident when I was in high school.

Now, it’s more than a little weird for a huge nerd like me — especially one who was decidedly not popular — to have had more self-confidence at age 17 than at age 31. That’s not to say that I loved every minute of high school (I definitely didn’t), but I suddenly realized that had a lot more confidence and chutzpah circa 1998.
When I was 17, I knew what I was interested in, and I knew I wanted to pursue something combining health/medicine and international affairs. I knew that this combination was bewildering to most people, but I didn’t especially care. It made sense to me, and I loved both fields and knew they could be combined in innovative and satisfying ways.

I’m the one on the right, hangin’ with my high school besties circa 1998

When I was 17, I went on a date with the guy who would wind up being my first “real” boyfriend and, while I looked nice, I kept my hair in a ponytail and my makeup to a minimum. I wore jeans and a sweater (and my Doc Martens…hey, it was the 90s). When my parents asked why I was wearing the same clothes, hairstyle, and makeup that I’d worn to school, I replied that if this guy was going to date me, he needed to like me for me — and that involved seeing me in my normal state.

 Somehow, between 1998 and 2012, all that changed.
I’m not sure how that change happened, but I think it had a lot to do with both a handful of painful rejections and an increasing desire to fit in. I’d never really fit in anywhere: I’m way too Colorado to be East Coast, but a wee bit too East Coast to be 100% Colorado; a self-designed major in psychology and international affairs who, because she was both, could be in the honors societies and clubs for neither; too nerdy to roll with the popular crowd, but too social to roll with the nerds; the sort of gal who is bawdy yet sensitive; who equally loves both football and fierce shoes, science and international affairs, high-brow entertainment like art museums and low-brow entertainment like slapstick comedy movies and the Twilight books. (Yes, I read them and liked them. Don’t hate.)

Basically, I’m the sort of gal who balances on the cusp of a bajillion categories but doesn’t fit neatly into any of them.

 Comparison is the Thief of Joy, Teddy Roosevelt
For whatever reason, this really bothered me. I felt like I really needed to fit in, find a niche, be classifiable into at least some of the clearly defined categories that seem to suit so many people. Looking back, I have no idea why I felt like this, but I can tell that it eroded the confident, self-assured, “I’m not afraid to do things my way” young woman I used to be.
Once I realized this, I started thinking about the whole issue of fitting in. Suddenly it hit me: I’ll never fit in, and not only is there nothing wrong with not fitting into an either/or dichotomy, but it’s actually a really good thing!
Why Fit In Art Print Dr Seuss Quote Funky Whimsical by BethNadlerArt

My interests always have been, and always will be, varied. I’ll always love both medicine and international affairs. I’ll always love both the girly world of fashion, shoes, and celeb gossip and the guy-centered world of wildly inappropriate comedy movies (Tropic Thunder and Ted are among my favorites) and full-contact sports. 
Furthermore, I realized that I knew at 17 what I wanted my dream career to look like: I knew I wanted it to involve both medicine and IR, and I knew I wanted to be helping people through whatever work I wound up doing.
Basically, it took me the better part of my post-college adulthood to re-realize what I knew almost 15 years ago. That knowledge and wisdom was there all along — it just got buried beneath the muck of trying to fit in and make people like me. 

 Believe in You
In the last year, I’ve really started excavating that inner knowledge, and it makes me incredibly happy to rediscover the things that, deep down, I’ve known all along. Two things have played huge roles in that process: my studies at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and blogging. As far as the latter is concerned, I want to thank you all for a) reading my ramblings in the first place, and b) your insightful, kind, and generally wonderful comments. I feel incredibly lucky to have such awesome friends and readers, and I want you all to know that you mean the world to me. 
Thank you for being you, and big hugs to you all!

12 thoughts on “Everything I Need to Know I Learned When I Was 17

  1. therunwithin January 22, 2013 / 2:45 pm

    this is a great post and one I can relate too, i almost feel like I wasted my high school and college early years trying to fit in when really it left me more lost than ever. finding who I was is what made me realize so much more about what life had to offer

  2. Caitlin Helsel January 22, 2013 / 6:12 pm

    Well thank you for being you! And sharing such a beautiful reminder post with everyone ๐Ÿ™‚ It's funny what we realize at such a young age and then what we try to force out so that we can "fit in." I've spent so much time trying to hide myself and my interests/spirit/etc that I feel like I'm only now really discovering who I am and want to be…better late than never I suppose, but it does make me wonder if things would have turned out differently if I'd had more self-confidence at a younger age

  3. Susie January 22, 2013 / 7:13 pm

    If you fit in, you wouldn't be nearly as interesting!

  4. Lillian January 23, 2013 / 12:33 am

    Thanks! I'm glad you can relate – it's amazing how easy it is to lose yourself while trying to fit in!

  5. Lillian January 23, 2013 / 12:36 am

    I wonder that about myself, too – but what I've come to realize is that a lot of people never feel ok with who they are and what they're all about. The fact that you and I are realizing it and embracing who we are – regardless of the stage of life – is a huge deal. Here's to getting it figured out! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. jessielovestorun January 23, 2013 / 8:51 am

    Well darn, I just wrote a whole comment & for some reason it went blank? Oh well.. here we go again:**At the end you said Thank you to all of us, well Lillian I just want to tell you THANK YOU. I love your blog for the fact that you are honest & you do share your stories & struggles with us. I also want to thank you for your sweet comments, and for being such an inspiration & motivator to me. You are such a beautiful person, and just because you may feel like you don't fit in.. you do ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Christie Joy January 23, 2013 / 4:23 pm

    I think your variety of interests and tastes is the best thing about you! XOXO

  8. Erin January 24, 2013 / 6:07 pm

    I know exactly how you feel! I always felt out of place until I moved to the Pacific North West. We're ALL weird over here! Now I fit right in! ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Lillian January 24, 2013 / 6:09 pm

    Thank you so much for such a kind comment – I'm overwhelmed by warm fuzzies after reading this! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Lillian January 24, 2013 / 6:10 pm

    Thanks, love! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Lillian January 24, 2013 / 6:10 pm

    LOL – it's great to be in a place where everyone is equally weird! ๐Ÿ™‚

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