I’m grateful that I was an awkward teenager

I know 15-year-old me would never listen, but if I could give her one piece of advice, I would say to be grateful she was different, to be happy she was unpopular, and to revel in the fact that boys wanted nothing to do with her.

15-year-old me would roll her eyes at all of those statements, but 26-year-old me now knows that those awkward years were the best thing that could happen. As an adult, when I meet someone who claims to never have had an awkward phase, I grow leery. You mean you didn’t have braces and glasses and a poorly chosen haircut at one point or another? Your middle school years weren’t complicated waves of questionable fashion choices and social anxiety?

I went to a suburban, preppy middle school where cliques seemed to resemble something out of a John Hughes film. Girls with perfectly straight hair and expensive jeans carried Kate Spade bags to algebra class. To this day, I still don’t understand the need for a 15-year-old human to carry their colored pencils and calculator in a 350 dollar handbag. Regardless, I didn’t have the makings of being a cool girl. Or any idea how to feel comfortable in my own skin. Or boobs.

Me? I was rocking multicolored braces, newly prescribed eyeglasses, and a woebegone “Mandy Moore pixie cut circa 2005” that turned out looking like a misshapen bowl cut. I was into theater and Weezer and had a very strange crush on Conan O’Brien. I preferred to spend my time wandering around Barnes & Noble instead of playing sports. I felt different from other kids, and had trouble making friends who saw the world like I did. Certain girls would pick on my clothing choices and lack of makeup know-how. Guys found me an easy target for teasing because I was a wallflower and a late-bloomer.

I remember one day a boy came up to my face and said “You know you’re a dork, right? You’re a huge dork. I don’t know if you know that.” Uh, yeah, I was pretty aware, but I didn’t think anyone else was as concerned about it as I was. Another day I remember telling a guy to back off from a mentally challenged kid in our class and I was greeted with some choice words about my flat chest.

I may have eventually felt more comfortable in my own skin and met some like-minded friends, but that didn’t stop those previous few years from sucking immensely. When I look back at them as an adult, though, I don’t see an awkward, unlikeable girl. I see someone who stood up for what she believed in, had unique interests, and was a sincere, kindhearted person.

No matter when they occur, awkward phases have a lot to teach us about how to be better people, how to listen to ourselves, and how to have faith in the future. The awkward years I went through in middle school allowed me to focus on my creativity, my passions, and myself in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if everything was smooth sailing.

If you’re finding yourself in the midst of an awkward phase, month, or year, have hope! What feels awkward now is merely just a growing pain that means you’re going through some tough but important character building. Try and remember these silver linings to any awkward phase, month, or year:

They make you resilient

If everything’s always sunshine and roses (or homecoming queen awards) how do you develop a backbone…or a personality? Whenever someone was rude to me or treated me like I didn’t exist, I’d say to myself “this will be great for my future novel.” As snarky as that sounds, it’s really gratifying to remind yourself that observing other people’s insensitive behavior and turning it into art is 800% more fun that being the insensitive one yourself. The more I used my pain as fuel for my creativity, the stronger I felt. There’s an inner resilience that can only be born out of believing in yourself when no one else does.

They teach you compassion

In the game of life, sometimes you’re going to feel like the homecoming queen, and sometimes you’re going to feel like the new kid who accidentally uses the wrong bathroom. You won’t always be on top, and you won’t always be on the bottom. Times when we’ve felt uncomfortable, out of our element, under-appreciated, or unseen only help to make us more compassionate to others going through similar experiences. When we’re “up” but we know what it’s like to feel down, we can better empathize with people going through hard times. It also teaches you humility to know that not everyone is going to think you’re the hottest thing since sliced bread: some people may think you’re the biggest nerd on the planet. And their opinion has nothing to do with how awesome you are: bad haircuts and all.

You figure out quickly that being awkward doesn’t matter if you’re following your heart

As the great Amy Poehler once said: “No one looks stupid when they’re having fun,” and it’s true. If you continuously try to fit in (no matter what age you are) you’ll never feel the freedom of being totally yourself. Wear what you want, do what you want, and pay attention to the things that bring you joy. Pursue your interests with a passion and don’t care what you may look like in your pursuit. It can take some practice to truly not care what others think, seeing as we are born with an innate drive to seek acceptance, but when you think about it, would you rather spend your time on earth dancing with abandon or checking out the mirror every two seconds to see how your form looks? Get your awkward T-Swift dancing on, girl.

They’re practice for the ups and downs of life

The truth is, no matter what someone’s life looks like on Instagram, nobody has it all figured out (or their bowl of oatmeal perfectly curated). Life is full of uncertain and uncomfortable times that come and go. Times when you won’t know what you want to do with your life, or your bangs, or your hands when you’re talking. Is that just me? The point is, the more you can practice settling in to those feelings and having faith in yourself, the less uncomfortable they might feel. I’m still working on it, but whenever I need a refresher, 15-year-old me tells me to put on my Weezer t-shirt and roam around Barnes and Noble looking for a good read.

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