High school was chock full of daunting college applications, fleeting friendships, and hype pep rallies. For most, it was exciting, but I was always counting down the days until college happened. In high school, I cared too much about what others thought of me and I longed to go to a place where I would be accepted. My days were spent (in between studying of course) feeling badly about sitting at the lunch table alone, working tirelessly to impress a guy or following the path laid out for me to the letter. I was afraid to speak up in class for fear that I would be called a nerd, so I spent most of my time hiding so that others could be comfortable with me.
Sure, I was a star student, involved in many student groups and poised to head to a top college. But on the inside, I let what my peers thought of me or what I thought they thought of me rob me of the freedom of being unapologetically me.
That “dull your own shine” attitude followed me into my college years.
I’d miss interesting events and speakers because I was afraid I’d be the only Black person there or worse that I’d have no one to go with. I didn’t join certain student groups for fear of being ridiculed. I didn’t pursue my dream of writing because of the people who told me that it was not a substantial career. When you tell people that you are a Theatre and Latin American Studies major, their blank stares, piercing disappointment, confusion and replies of “Oh” can dim your spirit.
I wanted to impress. I wanted a “You go, girl!”
Instead replies went something like this…
“Why do you want to do that?”
“What are you going to do with that?”
“Why didn’t you study business?”
“You will never make it.”
Because I didn’t get the affirmation I sought, I forced myself to pursue other interests. I focused on my backup plan so much that I didn’t get anywhere near my dream.
It took conversations with my mother during my last year of college to realize that what others say or feel about your path should not matter. The infinite “Oh” that I receive when talking about my purpose is just a result of other people’s fear. It should not be mine. You would think that the revelation would have happened sooner, but you can’t rush progress.
And that has been my goal: to stop basing my life and decisions on other people’s expectations.
Every day, I ask myself the questions:
What do you want to do?
What is your purpose?
And I follow that with my whole heart.
The older you get, the less you care. Or maybe you just come into your own. No need for “Amen” and “You go, girl” to compliment your dreams (unless they are praying for you, then you need all of that you can get). You live everyday so that you can look back on it in fifty years with few regrets. You don’t need a co-signer. You don’t need to explain or give everyone a play-by-play of how it is going to happen. The older you get, the more experiences you have and the more you realize that you don’t care what people think about you. You begin to live life to please your Creator and yourself. You follow your dreams with a gusto and magic that is contagious. That magic inspires others to do the same.
Jelisa Jay Robinson is a writer and playwright from Houston, Texas. She enjoys traveling, singing 90’s pop music, belting out Enrique Iglesias songs with friends, and reading a good Junot Diaz novel. You can find her musings on being a bilingual Black American on her website Black Girl, Latin World. Feel free to follow her on twitter @jelisathewriter.