A month before my thirteenth birthday my family and I moved from the suburbs of Denver to a small mountain town three hours away. Three hours from my friends, my classmates, my church – everyone I knew was now seemingly gone. This was in the dawning of the internet so I didn’t have an email address, cell phones were still rare and reserved for the rich, and long-distance calls were charged by the minute. Contact with those I knew and loved was reserved to mailing a letter and my relationships quickly faded.
Moving is difficult for any child, regardless of age, but it was really bad timing for me: I was entering my teens, starting a new school (junior high, no less), and I didn’t know anyone outside of my family. We moved early that summer in hopes that my brother and I would be able to make some friends before school, or that we would at least be able recognize some people. My brother was heading into the 10th grade and outgoing; I, on the other hand, was rather shy and not sure how to make friends.
Early on I decided that I needed a hook: I needed something that would make me stand out in a good way. I needed to make myself cool, hip, and exciting; I needed to do something to make me not me. In my old school I wasn’t cool, memorable, or part of the ‘in crowd’, but I realized this small-town school was a fresh start for me. No one knew my background, no one knew where I grew up – no one knew me! I could be whoever I chose to be; all I needed to do was come up with a new persona and perfect it in those two months before school started.
I came up with the dumbest idea, but in my adolescent mind it was brilliant: I would be from Australia. If I worked on a passable accent and spent some time in the library reading about my new motherland I figured this would be my way in – I would be the cool kid from a foreign country. But my only access to foreign accents, specifically Australian accents, was from renting one of the Crocodile Dundee movies, Yahoo Serious’ seminal film, ‘Young Einstein’, or catching a Foster’s beer commercial on television. And the small-town library was severely lacking in information about the land down under.
But along with my determination of not being me came the attention span of a budding teenager. While I was focused in my makeover during the first few weeks, my plan quickly fizzled out as I began to explore the small town; I discovered that there was so much more to do than trying to become Australian. I entered 7th grade as me, and while I never gained that Aussie accent, I did survive those initial awkward days (and years) and I met some wonderful people who I consider my life-long friends.
The truth is this: even in my late 30’s I still try to put on masks and be someone I’m not. I think it’s fairly common for us to portray a version of ourselves that we think others will like because we want to be liked. I desire acceptance and approval, and I seek the acknowledgement that others see me, recognize me, and like me.
But in seeking this approval, I am giving up who I am and all of the good that I am. When I hide who I truly am, I deny the world this gift of me. The world doesn’t need another fake person; the world doesn’t need another person who fits into the mold – someone who looks and acts like everyone else. The world needs Sheth – with all my jokes, laughter, compassion, flaws, failures, and shortcomings. The Creator made me this way because I needed to be this way. The world needs me as I am, not as I think I should be.
much love. sheth.