When I was ten I was a quiet little lad. Never the one to lead, always standing back to let the others do that. I didn’t put my hand up, I didn’t go on the foreign exchange, that wasn’t for me, I didn’t take part in the high school play, even though I liked the idea of it. I liked some things others didn’t and what if I looked stupid or people laughed at me. No, I wasn’t that confident, I was always worried about what others would think. I wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else. I wanted to be part of the crowd, and I very much succeeded, I took the back seat, I was just there, invisible to most, under the radar, just a face in the crowd. Never being laughed at, not being bullied, and never making a fool of myself. Always just there, there but invisible, never proud of who I was, never comfortable with me. Me, quiet, shy, but with an internal voice wanting to cry out.
That changed, it changed in a single moment, a spark of an opportunity, a moment of bravery. I was waiting in the foyer of the IT training centre I was about to start at. I sat with sweaty hands and the cold/warm tingle of nervousness. “Hi, I’m Carl, are you on the same training course of me?” I did it! I made the first move, I wasn’t the quiet one, I didn’t just sit back….and I like it. I only spent six weeks at that training centre before I got a work placement. I was the first to get one. But from that first moment, I was the loud one, the leader, the one who stood up in fount of everyone and talked, the one who everyone looked towards. The confident one, the one everyone wanted to be with, never afraid make a fool out myself and the leader of the crowd. I’d changed, I’d become who I wanted to be, that quite, shy little boy was gone and he was gone for good, left in the past with the other nobodies, the other invisibles, the ones who didn’t succeed.
This only continued, I became part of a huge friendship group, I was part of the in-crowd, I was never without someone, something to do, or some place to go. I met friends around the country, had crazy times. I had everything, I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more confident.
It wasn’t for a good few years after progressing at work, getting married and having children that I started to reflect. Something started to feel strange. That presentation at work needed preparation, being cool and just winging it didn’t work. On my own at that big conference with new people made me feel nervous, but that wasn’t me. I was an extravert, confident, part of the in-crowd, the leader. Why were these feelings coming back?
I looked towards my son, now ten. Today he graduated from primary school and I couldn’t be more proud. He is everything I was at that age, but at the same time everything I wanted to be, all at once. He likes some things others don’t, he’s a little quirky, he isn’t loud, he isn’t really part of the in-crowd, but he’s proud of it, so very proud, so very proud to be him. He exudes confidence, a confidence that I never had, he was a lead in the school play, he stood on a stage and read a poem he’d written, he plays his clarinet in a band, he’s a great swimmer, he speaks up and asked questions at school, he is on the radar. But on the radar for being him, not for being the norm. Most importantly he is comfortable and happy with himself. He doesn’t need to pretend, he doesn’t need to fit in, and he doesn’t want to. But because of that, he does.
I’m almost 40 now, and sure that loudness is still there sometimes, that’s become part of me, I’m comfortable with that, it gets me through the nervousness, it helps me lead, its gets me up in front of people. But I’ve come to understand that there’s room for that little boy, he’s who I am too. You don’t need to be loud to be confident and I take energy from the nervousness, it makes me feel alive. There are times when I’m quite, times when I let others take the lead, times when going under the radar feels right. But now I’m comfortable with that, almost comfortable with who I am, almost comfortable with the silence. Almost comfortable being me.
Don’t forget who you were, be happy with who you are, and take inspiration from those you aspire to be.
Good luck in high school Ethan!