Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Everything Changed When I Turned Sixteen

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By: Lillabeth B. 

From the beginning of my memory, every year on my birthday, someone asks me if I feel different, evolved, changed by the addition of a year to my life story. Of course, every year on my birthday, I have changed in the year since the last time someone asked me that question, but I feel no significant difference from the day before my birthday. 
That’s how I felt the day I turned sixteen. As sweet sixteens go, it was uneventful--a crisp January day, a couple rounds of bowling with my friends, a quiet celebration with my family that evening. It was perfect: an intimate gathering of loved ones doing something that was the same as always and yet special. It was exactly what I needed. 
I was at an odd point in my life, a point aching for disruption. I had finally been accepted into my school’s prestigious drama program, which I had long to be a part of for years. Everything was just as I had hoped it would be, but somehow it didn’t feel at all like what I had wanted. Moreover, I had fallen into an odd funk of social anxiety that trapped me in my own mind, rendering me unable to overcome the doubt and criticism I inflicted on myself. I had no reason to complain, of course. On paper, I was living what my elementary-school self would describe as the perfect life. Somehow, it didn’t feel so perfect. 
Then, quick as a flash, it changed. It was March 17, almost two months exactly after my age increased by one, the End of Year Party for the Lime Green Giraffe. We were chatting with the graduating LGGers about the future, theirs and our own. When asked what I was pursuing, my immediate answer was a career as an actor. I jokingly mentioned my admiration for Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, the undeniably brilliant, impeccably dressed, exceptionally merciless Miranda Priestly. The conversation moved on, but the thought stuck with me. Did my aspirations resemble Miranda more than Meryl? 
To some, this question may seem simple. To me, it rocked my world. I had wanted to be an actor since I knew it was an occupation. I had spent countless hours, years of my life analyzing scripts, memorizing lines, rehearsing, performing. The theater was a second home to me, but more than that, it was my identity. Theatre defined me. 
As cheesy as it sounds, I will never forget what came next. I was eating out with my family that night, an image of myself as editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine spinning around in my head. I excused myself, leaving my barbecue sandwich half-eaten and warm on the plate. I walked through the low-lit smoke-filled room in a daze, smiling weakly at a server as she passed. Pushing the bathroom door open, I peeked under the stall doors to make sure I was alone. I was. The dull roar of the dinner crowd seeped in through the door, the taupe walls close but cozy. I remember scanning myself in the smeared mirror, a girl who appeared no different than she had at fifteen but who had somehow changed more in the past twelve hours than she had in years. I knew without hyperbole that if I made this decision, my priorities, my schedule, my dreams, my future would shift, rearrange. I knew that if I wanted a real chance for happiness, I would have to step away from my dream of acting, the one thing that had remained constant all my life. 
For sixteen-year-olds, everything becomes that much more real. Does our society place too much merit on an obsolete number based on a make-believe unit of measurement? Probably. But by cultural default, more is demanded of us: more maturity, more commitment, more wisdom. Whether or not I genuinely have these qualities is difficult to pin down. But no matter the cause, be it the ticking clock of college applications or the changing seasons or simple chance, I am a different person than I was at fifteen. 
The most significant change I made is the hardest one to spot: I became more invested in myself. This manifested itself in different ways: I started eating healthier and exercising more. I dropped commitments that weren’t fulfilling or uplifting and pursued opportunities that I otherwise wouldn't have acknowledged which in turn exposed me to experiences outside my comfort zone, to mentors and peers that pushed me and inspired me and helped me grow. With my newfound curiosity fueling me, school suddenly became interesting to me, a chance to test my limits and expand my mind. I devoted more attention, time, and effort to everything I did, and I surprised myself when I was able to accomplish more than I had ever expected. 
Some things haven’t changed. I still love theatre and fashion and film. I still spend time with the same friends, along with a few new additions, who never fail to lift me up. Often, when I say how much I feel changed, my friends will look at me quizzically, unwilling to contradict me but unable to see what I see. Internally, though, I feel like an evolved Pokemon, Lillabeth 2.0. I am more confident, dedicated, passionate. With only a quarter of my seventeenth year left unlived, what has life as a sixteen-year-old meant to me? It’s meant rediscovering myself, reinventing myself, deciding who I was instead of being told. I don’t know what’s next. All I know is that I’m more ready for it and excited for it at sixteen than I ever was before. 

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