IV: The Person I Thought I'd Be
Photographs of author during quarantine birthday | Image Credits: author's roommate
Outfit by Le Château & necklaces by Aja (check out the talented @abajewels on Instagram)
As I enter into the 25th year of my existence I often look back and reflect on the life I’ve left behind. Never in a million years could I have imagined that this is where life would take me, and how could I? There are infinite variables that coincide with us each and every day and for each decision there is a consequence. We’re taught at a young age that a consequence is a negative happenstance of anything rash we do, but in reality it’s just a series of events that follow our actions. Positive or negative is up to you. I think this mentality is really important when looking back at the road we’ve travelled to get to where we are. After my short years on this planet I often contemplate how life may have ended up if I went right instead of left, up instead of down, and each time I come up with the same results, everything in my life happened for a reason and it’s too all consuming to dwell on the past.
Being a quarter of a century is an incredible thing. Sure, I’ve passed many of the predetermined “milestones” of early adulthood; the first legal drink, the ability to tattoo or pierce any part of my body, lottery tickets, license, the ability to vote… but 25 has something special about it. To me mid-twenties is the point where I’ve exited the awkward limbo of looking to my parents for every answer and begun to haphazardly trust my own instincts. At this age, each morning I feel exhausted by the day to day grind of my forthcoming career, but more than anything I feel passion and excitement for what life still has in store. Despite my often negative outlook on society, I am an optimist. I like to think that each year of my life will bring something new and special into the world, that with each 365 days passing I will learn, grow and find invaluable aspects of the person I am destined to be.
Call me a dreamer, call me naïve, but believe me when I say that I’ve seen some of the crucial ways the ups and downs of existence can impact a person's life. Each stage of my life has taught me lessons I won’t soon forget and if you’re keen to stick with this rant I’d be delighted to share them with you.
As a child I so desperately wanted to be liked. Friends, teachers, the local grocer, I wanted anyone and everyone to like me, to think something positive when they saw me. It was as if their approval of my character was worth more than life itself. But as I’m sure any child is soon to realize, it is hard to be in the good graces of everyone you know. I soon came to find that where I loved art, others preferred sports, where I was religious about my Saturday morning cartoons, others couldn’t comprehend the notion of waking up early on a weekend, let alone of my own volition. As silly as it seems this was one of the hardest things for me to grasp in life. I don’t know if anyone else was an avid The Weekenders watcher, or if it was just me and my siblings, but the context of this story stands. In one particular episode one of the main characters, Tino Tonitini (a notable people pleaser), meets his match when another classmate refuses to like him. Try and try Tino did, but this student was relentless in his dislike of our plucky protagonist. The episode wraps up with Tino begging the student to tell him why he doesn’t like him, and he simply replies “I just don’t.” Tino comes to the realization that he was never particularly fond of the student to begin with and that sometimes you just won’t like people, but more importantly sometimes people just won’t like you.
This lesson is so important, and I stand by it to this day. My fellow people pleasers know that some people are horrid and disagreeable, but more so there are some people on this earth who are just complete opposites and despite being the saint that I know you are, not everyone will like you and that’s okay. I think out of everything I’ve learned in life thus far, this is what I wish I had learned soonest. It would have saved me catering to the whim of the tyrant bullies surrounding me, dragging out some of the most painful relationships of my life, and most of all not allowing myself the self respect I deserve. And if it helps, if you’re reading this I already like you much more than a good portion of people on this planet for giving my particular outlook on life some consideration.
As I entered high school, like many other people my age I just wanted to blend in. It wasn’t so much about being liked anymore, but being accepted by those around me. Let’s take a moment to talk about the jungles of secondary school. Perhaps one of the weirdest places on the planet, high school is like no other stage of life. The odd combined smells of the overpowering axe body spray and teen BO clouding the hallways, the mismatch of styles and the somehow underlying fear in everyone’s eyes. High school is a cruel place of ups and downs that seems to drag on forever, or maybe it was only for me, within the walls of Bramalea Secondary School where I was made to feel so small.
Theodor Seuss Geisel once said “why fit in when you were born to stand out?” And while I know he’s quite the controversial artist and author, the notion of this quote stands (if you don’t know what I’m talking about Google it and fall into the rabbit hole of controversial childhood figures as I often do). Basically it means it’s fine to be yourself, that there’s no room for you to be just like someone else because that role was already filled, and honey you didn’t get cast. There will be a lot of people in your life who will try to ostracize you, make you into a social pariah and nitpick everything that’s different about you. Believe me when I say what makes you different is what makes you special. Walk to the beat of your own drum and hold your head high, if they don’t like the tune tell them to get out of your way.
If I had known then what I know now, I can only assume the ease my adolescence would have been. Instead I was afraid, unable to stand up for myself and tried to fit myself into cookie cutter shapes that I couldn’t possibly conform to. Looking back at the people who made me feel like I wasn’t enough, like my outside of average personality was something to be ashamed of, in all honesty I feel sorry for them. How sad it must be to live the life of someone so insecure that you have to minimize someone else to feel big. No I won’t go out and befriend those who I believe have wronged me, but I don’t wish anyone ill will. I know just like me everyone was going through teenage years in their own way, which brings me to another invaluable life lesson; everyone has shit. They may not say it out loud, you may not know what it is, but everyone has shit they are dealing with each day. It could be a tough home life, relentless acne or even questioning one's sexuality, but it’s important to consider that we can’t possibly consider everything ongoing in a person’s brain. I may never understand the motives of people I interact with each day, but the least I can do is understand that I will never understand, hell I can barely understand myself.
And now dear reader we come to my mid-twenties. After conquering all that before me, as a young adult my greatest fear is mediocrity. I have to admit there’s something ironic about that. All my life I’ve been fighting this inner battle to conform to societal norms, be like everyone else and be on the good side of every being I encounter. And now, at age 25 I am petrified that I won’t be able to leave my mark. On who or what? I’ll let you know when I figure that out, if ever. All I know is I want to do something worth doing, but the hard part is anything worth doing is rarely easy and it shouldn’t be. So here I am a 25-year old near PhD student, artist and activist, fighting each day to do something worth doing. This brings me back to what I first said at the start. Could I have imagined that I’d ever end up where I am now? Most certainly not! At age 5 I swore I’d be a dancer, by age 12 I was convinced I’d be the next Picasso, by 16 I was going to be a graphic designer, in university I “knew” I’d become a licensed architect, and at 25 I can’t imagine doing any of that.
I can’t help but laugh, smile and tear but at how my dreams, aspirations and fears have transformed throughout my life. Sure, I still have shit to work on, but who doesn’t? To this day I am still learning and growing and trying to figure out who I am. The Ra’anaa that once existed remains within me, but I am not her. I am the product of my environment, the best and worst of the consequences I created. So here I am, 25 in the twenty-first century welcoming the next 25 years with open arms. I am excited, intrigued and impassioned by what my life will become. Yes, I fear blending into the world of 7 billion people, but I like to think I’m on the right track to something so much bigger than one 25 year old confused Black woman. So, happy birthday to me, my gift to me is that I’m not the person I thought I’d be at a quarter of a century, I am so much more.