Caitlin Schanaker
April 11, 2015 6:00 am

I turned a whopping 26 years old this year. It’s not necessarily a milestone birthday, but it definitely signifies the end of an era. The end of the “early 20s.” I loved every bit of being 25. It felt young, flirty, capable, exciting. But then 26 came and I found myself in a very definitive funk. Being officially closer to 30 than to 20 dropped a curtain over my celebrations. I started feeling a bit like a failure, although I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what expectations I had apparently set for myself and why I suddenly felt like I hadn’t lived up to them. I decided to fight the birthday blues. Why should 26 be any less exciting than the year before? I created a to-do list (26 things to do before I turn 27) for this soon-to-be fantastic 26th year of life. I filled it with silly and serious goals and dreams alike, one of which was to dye the ends of my hair purple. Because why not?

Entering my 20s brought with it some restlessness with my hair, which I think many people experience. I had dyed the tips of my hair red the year before, and after it inevitably began to fade to a golden blonde I began to think about other fun colors I’d like to eventually try. Purple won out in the end. I loved the dark purple, but after a few weeks, it began to turn into this strange, mermaid-inspired teal green. I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t bothered by it. I was totally fine with the seaweed locks, and even began to find kindred spirits with teal hair in celebrity magazines and around the blogosphere.

A few weeks into the surprising hair fade shade, though, I had a friend tell me that she really didn’t like it. That it was probably time for it to go. It kind of took me back a little bit, because I somehow still manage to be surprised when people don’t think the things I like are as awesome as I think they are (like my gold-capped molar, or my autographed Orlando Bloom headshot, or the Renaissance Festival…). Maybe I’m just super weird in a million different ways. I’m typically timid and laid back, but the last 5ish years of my life (the glorious early twenties) have brought out a bit more boldness in me. Perhaps I’m finally owning that weirdness, which in itself is very liberating. I found myself reacting to the comment differently than I normally would. I didn’t shy back or try to people please or become embarrassed that something I like might be weird or nerdy or whatever else. I just said, “Oh, I like it!” and the conversation moved on.

It wasn’t a particularly life-changing moment, but it did cause me to think a little bit. Why do I make the choices that I do, in style and otherwise? Who are they for? Because if they’re for me, then I can proudly wear that green hair don’t care vibe and be unashamed by my loud galaxy-print dress and my gold molar and my handcrafted dragon statue made by a woman dressed like an apothecary’s wife. I’ve been told by many various people over the course of my life that I am weird. That I’m nerdy. I have never been able to figure out the reasons for saying those things in a hurtful way, especially when the words are spoken by friends. What are they hoping to gain? My embarrassment, an apology, a change of personality? Who knows.

I think it’s really hard to be confident. I often find myself feeling out a group before voicing my opinions. Sometimes I even nod in agreement or change my answer based on the dialogue of others, out of cowardice and self doubt. I know I’m not the only one who does this, but it often leaves me feeling really frustrated with myself.

At the end of the day, I want what I do to be for me. Not in a selfish way, but in an intentional way. I wear the clothes that I do because I love the way I feel in them, and I love the creativity inherent in putting together new outfits by utilizing my clothes in new and unexpected ways. They’re small but freeing choices that I’m proud of. I’ve never been more moved by the phrase “let your freak flag fly” than I am right now, at 26. That freak flag is so vastly different for every person, but it’s a deep set symbol of who they are. My freak flag probably has a hobbit or two on it, a unicorn, some stacks of brightly colored books, lots of stars, most definitely something Hufflepuff, and the fluffiest of all calico cats.

I don’t think there’s any one secret to not caring what other people think – I think I’ll always care. But I also think that I can practice confidence and claim joy. Those are worthy pursuits. So is Renaissance Festival pizza. Everyone else is just missing out.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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