In college, it was “Shirley” (not her real name). She had shiny blue eyes and olive skin and a flawless sense of boho style. I knew her since freshman year. Shirley was in my creative writing classes, where she captivated us all with DaDa poetry that slung together imagery of art museums and wine and eyelashes and turtles and Billy Joel albums. Shirley played piano, skied, and studied in France. After college, she started a homemade jewelry business to pass the time while unemployed. And all of this while managing to be one of the sweetest and most personable gals I knew. I was quiet and lanky and uninspired and I wanted to be just like Shirley.
But try as I might, I couldn’t get into folksy indie music, I couldn’t throw together unique scarves and chunky necklaces and flowing skirts without looking like I got into a fight with a bargain bin, and I eventually gave up poetry altogether.
Then as I got more into running, it was the fitness-as-a-lifestyle gals who gobble down healthy snacks like candy, who do burpees to pass the time in the airport because they love working out that much, whose bodies never seem to stop producing exercise endorphins. I bought the sleek workout gear and the marketing ploy that it would make me feel fresh and confident and energetic. But my skin hasn’t started to glow, and I’m still not compelled to drop and do push-ups or yoga poses in my cubicle.
In AmeriCorps NCCC, it was the many young adventurers who travel and explore like they breathe. They’re the ones in your Facebook feed who practically live on trails and in tents, who have met so many people and tried so many foods and hiked so many villages and mountain ranges it makes your head spin just hearing about it. Despite my best efforts to get bit by the travel and adventure bugs, I get homesick just being out of Milwaukee for a few hours (I do still have and love my yellow Camelbak, though).
Wanting to be like someone else. Blame it on today’s look-at-me connected culture, but it’s an instinct that predates social media image-mongering. As we near the completion of our formal education, as friends and acquaintances flow in and out of our young lives, we are bombarded with possibilities not just of where we will go, but who we will become.
I tried on so many different identities for so many years that I eventually couldn’t remember the one I started out with – the person I really was.
I’m now 27, and my weekend wardrobe consists of old race tees, sneakers and a couple pair of jeans – one of which I bought from Old Navy in 2011. The only place I might stand out is the gym, where I’m the only girl with mismatched workout clothes and frizzy hair falling out of bobby pins instead of glowing tan skin, Lululemon pants and neon Nike trainers, and long glossy hair in a perfect bouncy ponytail.
No chic, swanky handbag for this plain Jane: I tote my things to and from work in dingy but beloved canvas bags. I take the bus, waddling onto it every morning with my bags in tow, fumbling through my
wallet coat pocket for my bus pass.
My work cubicle is a veritable mountain range of paperwork; the coziness of our tiny, old apartment is freckled by some dirty dishes here, a laundry pile there. I’m cluttered, disorganized, and missed the neatness gene that should have been passed down from my mom.
So, one could say that despite integrating into the “grown up” world of independence and responsibilities, I still lack a certain amount of poise, polish, and flair.
I don’t have an infectious personality that “lights up the room”. I’m not outgoing or bubbly or gregarious. I don’t exude charm. I’m a good person, but I’m not particularly memorable or inspiring. People are not drawn to me.
But in spite of all this, I’ve realized, there’s never been a better time to be me. It’s taken a few years, but I’ve finally learned to love being Hanna.
That plain, quiet, unremarkable girl you see blending into the background at parties or running to catch the bus with her canvas bags flopping comically at her sides – she is actually the keeper of a deep inner world. Beneath the inexpensive clothes, unassuming face and thick mane of maddeningly straightener-resistant brown hair, there are thoughts and connections and ideas and questions bouncing around like shooting stars from one area of the brain to the next. A robust, energetic mind and a curious spirit keep me company wherever I go. And it makes for great company, if I do say so myself. I am comfortable and even happy spending time alone with my own thoughts, and I’ve finally learned to love that about myself. I wouldn’t have it any other way, in fact.
Being around tons of people, making small talk, and trying to jostle your way to the center of attention among a big group where everyone wants to talk at once makes me feel tired. But nothing makes me feel full like the great, inspiring, practically life-changing conversations I’ve had with a friend or two or with Kevin over coffee, a long car ride, a low-key dinner, a walk to clear our heads, or even just email.
To my more refined and polished peers, it may seem childish and graceless that I will buy an oversized unicorn tshirt and a coonskin cap from a podunk gas station and wear them around to make my friends laugh, or that I’ll pick up a rooster wandering around our Habitat build site, or that I’ll make up a ridiculous country or rap song and belt it out to my AmeriCorps teammates after a long day of work. But I laugh, and my friends laugh, and there are few things in life that rival the joy I get from just being SILLY:
And people may think I’m “not living life” because I’m not out at parties or bars or events or shows or big social gatherings whenever I get the chance. But the way I come to life trying to decide which book to dive into next, the rush of excitement I get as I’m about to open the pages and plunge into another world – it’s happiness, pure happiness.
That – and much more – is me. In all of my nerdy, goofy, introverted glory.
I’ve known so many great people in my life. People who are interesting, witty, cultured, and funny. Outgoing, alluring people who can draw a crowd before they even open their mouths, whose mere presence can put others instantly at ease. People who swim through life with an elusive refinement; people who can roll out of bed in sweats and a tshirt and still look ridiculously pulled together.
But now, I’m finally getting to know Hanna. And you know what? She’s pretty cool. You don’t have to think she is, but that’s okay. Because I do.
As for all those icons – the Shirleys and the modern-day Amerlia Earhardts and those who can make sweating in workout clothes look glam – I’ve learned to stop using them as a mirror for my own insecurities, and just appreciate that people like them exist in the world to inspire us and fascinate us and use their unique skills to bridge gaps that many of us can’t. I stopped asking “what is their secret??” because I finally realized that I don’t need to know. I already have all that I need.
But I also know that learning to love this girl and her inner world is only step 1. My mistake all these years was assuming I needed to change myself when what I really needed to do was project myself. I need to do more than just accept and love the person I am, I need to bring her out into the world. All those things I nurture in my inner world – heart and soul, the zest and energy of my mind – they don’t just need food to grow, they need light. And they also have a little sunshine of their own, that could maybe even brighten up a few dull dark patches of the world around me. This journey of mine is rich and complex: I need to learn not only to love myself, but to extend myself; that not only should I not hide, but actively seek.
This is “Hanna Out Loud”, my take on today’s Thursday Thinking Out Loud link-up hosted by Amanda @ RunningWithSpoons. Thank you for hosting these link-ups!