What I Wish I'd Known in Junior High: It. Gets. Better.
I saw “Harrison Ford” a couple of weeks ago at Starbucks. We sat across from each other for about three hours. I kept sneaking peaks at the guy. I even posted a status update on my Facebook saying, “I’m sitting across from a guy at Starbucks that looks like Harrison Ford, what do I do?”
One person said I should tell the guy that Jesus loves him. Another said I should go up to the guy and say, “Excuse me sir, but has anyone ever told you that you look like Harrison Ford?” And then there’s my cousin, Derek, who suggested that I do my best Chew Bacca impression.
I’m pretty sure the guy wasn’t Harrison Ford, but it must be nice to be able to say I get that a lot, when you look like a guy that gets paid millions of dollars for not looking dorky!
Not that I know what that feels like.
Allow me to share with you a list of characters I’ve been told that I look like. I got all of these when I was in elementary, junior high, and high school.
- Mr. Bean
- Ernie of Bert and
- Boy George
- The elf that wants to be a dentist from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Imagine being a 12-year-old boy and all of your classmates agree that you look like the nerd on Saved by the Bell. Not exactly a confidence booster when it comes time to ask a girl if she wants to — as I remember the phrase —“go out with you.”
But that was me. Scrawny. Brainy. Goofy. Religious. Socially-awkward. I sucked at sports, but could sing and act, which were gifts that no adolescent male wanted back then. These were the days before, High School Musical, American Idol, and Justin Beiber. Go figure.
I used to lay awake at night thinking about suicide.
You might be thinking that a kid like me must have been a prime target for bullies, but I wasn’t. While it’s true that I got made fun of from time to time; because of my faith and personal convictions, I was also well- respected. Though I felt like an oddball in my private Christian school, I had plenty of friends at church and in my neighborhood.
The problem wasn’t a lack of friends or a lack of confidence or ambition. Outwardly I had all of those things. The problem was that I was deeply uncomfortable with what many perceived as my lack of boyishness, and because I felt I didn’t measure up to what society said a boy should be, whenever anybody made a comment about my looks, lack of athletic abilities, or — frankly—girlishness—it cut deep.
If only I knew back then what I know now.
When I was in junior high I wanted to be either the next Billy Graham, a major league baseball player, or a movie star. None of those thing happened, but I do have a beautiful wife and two small children, and I’ve been able to travel the world and do all kinds of interesting things (such as driving through the Sahara desert in the middle of the night dodging donkeys.)
Lately I’ve taken up Zumba, a class where a bunch of people get together twice a week to shake their booties and burn calories. There are a couple of other guys in the class, and we all look ridiculous. None of us can dance, and one of the guys has a significant potbelly, but guess what? Nobody cares.
In my Zumba class there are people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and degrees of attractiveness, but at the end of the class, we all want to get home to our spouses and children, even the not-so-“attractive” ones.
I wish I would have known in junior high that most of the kids that made me feel awkward would one day grow up and become parents, and that as parents they would try to teach their children to be kind and respectful to others, and that if they didn’t, they would be the oddballs.
In junior high, peer pressure is largely negative, but when you grow up, it turns positive. That’s what growing up is about!
For example, if somebody in Zumba class were to make fun of me or the guy with the potbelly, everyone would disapprove, not just the courageous ones. In junior high, an “unattractive” girl might get made fun of for being unattractive, but rest assured, when that same “unattractive” girl grows up, if she ends up with a guy that puts her down for being plump or homely, nobody’s going to take his side. The overwhelming consensus will be that the guy’s a douche bag.
I wish I had known that that back in the day.
If my 33-year old self could send a message back to my 11-yeard old self it would be this:
You. Are. OK.
Hang in there.
It gets better.
Aaron D. Taylor is a world-traveling Jesus-follower, who also works as an author, journalist and a peace-advocate. He blogs at http://www.aarondtaylor.blogspot.com. Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronDTaylor.