The “what if?” that haunts me

This is in response to a post on Tumblr:

Hoeonfilm says,

Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on so much just because of being who you are and not someone else? Whenever I see a beautiful girl I wonder how it must feel to be that beautiful and if I’ll ever feel like that. Or when I see someone who’s confident and extroverted and I imagine how nice and easy it must be to be that way. Or when I see someone that’s my age who has already accomplished so much or been in so many places and experienced so many things, I can’t help but feel like time is falling from my hands like sand and I’m not getting better or going anywhere. I grew up watching movies and reading stories that made me believe that life was supposed to be constantly exciting and I haven’t felt that way many times and I just feel so stuck being myself. I wish I could be someone else for a while.

When I read this, it described just how I felt three hours ago, when I went to the last high school football game I will watch as a high school student.

I’m a senior, and tonight was our football players’ and cheerleaders’ senior night. It must be emotional for them, I thought, to play what might be their last game or to give what could be their last cheer, unless they continue to pursue their sport in college. It makes me think about what I will feel once I go to my final banquet as a senior on my speech and debate team. All of the people I’ve met and the memories I’ve shared with them throughout the last four years of my life will come to an end very soon.

And as I looked at the posters hung up on the fence, each of them with a senior’s name on it, I saw the names of girls I’ve known since elementary school. These names reminded me of a memory from 3rd grade.

When I was in third grade, two girls who are now cheerleaders taught me how to cartwheel. We performed a tumbling routine for the school variety show that year. They were really good at gymnastics too — one of them even knew how to aerial. I really appreciate, even today, that they gave me the opportunity to have fun with tumbling, even if I haven’t tried to cartwheel in over a year.

So as I stared at the posters of their names, I wondered what my life would have been like if I had taken that appreciation for tumbling and made it my hobby. If I had become a cheerleader in middle school…

But that thought extended beyond cheerleading. When I watched all the football players play and the Entourage members cheer, I wondered what I had missed out on by choosing what I had chosen. I seem to have created a persona for myself in which cheering alongside my classmates seems uncomfortable even if no one is paying attention to who’s screaming. I enjoyed playing football in my high school’s intramural game. But I honestly sucked at it, so bad that my team could have won without me. What kind of life would I have had if I had become the athletic person? What if I hadn’t quit field hockey and track?

Last week, I had only just rediscovered what it was like to create a piece of art I was truly proud of. Today, as my friend painted a white bear onto my hand with face paint, I wondered: what if I hadn’t quit AP Art to become a TA?

There are so many what-ifs to my life. What if I had taken journalism like I had wanted to? What if I had taken AP Capstone? What if I had joined Model UN or Quizbowl? What if I had played softball like I had wanted to in eighth grade?

Instead, I chose to be a debater, an educator, an AP scholar, and an advocate. I chose to be a teaching assistant, to read literature, and to learn biology. At times I feel like I chose to be a nerd and I wonder if that only reinforces the stereotype or image that people might have of me.

Yet, at the same time, I know those stereotypes aren’t the truth, and those images aren’t the whole story. For one thing, I’m still an artist even if I didn’t take AP Art this year. It hurts that I couldn’t schedule both AP Art and a TA period, but I know because of that first year of AP Art that I want to take Art History someday. I suck at football, but I still want to play in my school’s intramural this year. I want to be an athlete. I want to be a softball player. I want to play field hockey again some day. That’s why I can’t give up my stick even though I haven’t touched it in two years.

High school was too short for me to do everything. And maybe life is just too short to do everything. I want to learn gymnastics but I can’t be that flexible as I get older. Even as I watch my fellow speakers and debaters win awards for being accomplished, I realize that my time to be a part of this team is running out too.

I can’t help but feel like time is falling from my hands like sand and I’m not getting better or going anywhere.

But…that’s just life. If I don’t make the choices, life makes them for me. The truth is that everyone feels like this too.

Those girls who taught me the cartwheel don’t know what it feels like to be a debater. They aren’t me. My fellow debaters didn’t join a club to end stigma. That was me. My friends who didn’t quit field hockey don’t know how to oil paint. But I do.

when I see someone who’s confident and extroverted and I imagine how nice and easy it must be to be that way.

I wonder too, whether my personality truly prevents me from waving to strangers in their cars on my walk home, or whether it’s just me who has convinced myself that my personality is so. I’m a shy extrovert. It sounds so easy that I should just be able to talk to people if I cared enough to, but I don’t. Maybe I’m missing out by thinking that people are scarier than they really are.

At times like these, however, I always think back to the reasons I made the choices that I made.

I wish I could be someone else for a while.

And I realize, through it all, that I don’t.

I don’t wish I could be someone else. I wish I could be the version of myself that tried something different.

The version of me who didn’t give up on softball, the version who became a cheerleader, the version who became a research assistant. The version who never became shy, but was simply an outgoing extrovert.

I want to do everything. But I am so immobilized by what I already have to do that it is too exhausting to even look at a bucket list of all of the things I want to do in life.

I want to design a clothing line or write a novel,

To make YouTube videos about public policy

Or learn to dance to “Galaxias,”

but god,

I want to sleep first…

I want to stop beating myself up for not trying everything or for giving up at times because it’s not easy. It’s so easy to forget how little sleep I got last year or how little sleep I got last week. It’s so easy to think that I should’ve done more, because it’s so easy to see everything that I didn’t get instead of what I did get.

It’s a greed, in a way — a healthy one. Yet, it can also be destructive. If I forget to look at what I did accomplish in these four short years, and I forget about the important reasons why I chose the things I chose… If I forget how damn hard it is to wave to drivers on my way home from school. Then I really have no respect for all of the hard work I did and all that I did end up accomplishing. I’d have no respect for the person I created, which is a damn good person considering how hard it is to simply be.

I won’t ever be these other people, but I really don’t want to be. They won’t ever value the things I value, not in the same way. I’m shy because I’m self-reflective and care what people think. I chose to sleep instead of finish those last 6 problems on my math homework, because I was getting sick. I chose my struggles, and I’m going to live them out.

It’s hard, but I can afford to give myself a little more self respect.