Going Full Time: Month 7

I remember the first time I felt not good enough. I was in 7th grade. I’ve talked about my Junior High quite a bit on this blog but if you weren’t around for those posts, I’ll let you know, this Junior High had a crazy amazing drama department. With over 100 members, it was the biggest club on campus and having grown up around musical theater, I was dying to find my place in this club. I knew the drill: you worked as a 7th grader on stage crew or makeup. Then in 8th grade, if you were very lucky and very talented, you could land a role in the cast… but for the most part, you continued your career in stage crew through 8th grade. Then 9th grade was where the magic happened. You got to be on stage, sweating under the spotlights, dressed in costumes with your name safety pinned on the tag. That’s where I wanted to be.

I admired the group of ninth grade girls who were all in the cast of the first play that I handled costumes for. I learned their names, I made sure their costumes were perfect, I said hi in the halls…. I made an effort. It was the first time I had really made an effort for something I was passionate about. It was the first time I really wanted people to know I cared. “Maybe,” I thought, “Maybe one of them will come back when I’m in ninth grade to direct the student produced play and they’ll cast me because they know how much I care.” or “Maybe they will tell our drama teacher, ‘That Denise is hardworking AF, you should definitely cast her when she’s in ninth grade!'” I hoped, I dreamed, and in the meantime, I worked.

The younger brother of one of those girls was my 4th period science partner. He was hilarious and fun and we had a great time being terrible Scientists together. One Monday he came into class. “My sister had a sleep over this weekend.” he told me. “I asked them if they knew you.” My eyes snapped off my book and onto him…”YOU DID?? What did they say?!”  I held my breath as he replied, “They said ‘She’s Weird.'”

She’s weird.

I could feel my face was hot…I could feel my heart was pounding… I was so embarrassed. Did that really happen? While I was at home Friday night being forced to watch reruns of Mash, those girls who I admired and wanted to be like were judging me, bonding over a shared dislike of whatever they think I did wrong. I waited for the bell to ring, the teachers words not even hitting my ears. Once class was over, I ran out into the hall and down to my locker where I buried my face. What else could I have done? I thought so hard… what could I have done to make them think I was okay? And it came to me…..nothing. There was nothing I could have done. I did everything I was supposed to. I made an effort, I never missed a rehearsal, I cared about my job in the play, I learned their names, I was friendly to all of them, there was literally nothing more I could have done. And I remember the second the thought entered my head: “Maybe I’m just not good enough.”

And those words stuck. For years.

Over the next two and a half years, I auditioned for ten more plays and every time I walked up on stage, I had the terrible thought, “Do they all think I’m weird?” Certainly if nine girls all agreed, then they must not be the only ones. In a place where I wanted to be accepted…. in a place where I really believed I’d find my people, I felt rejected. I felt those sticky words: Not good enough.

Now, twenty something years later, I can still feel them echo. I still find myself at networking events, paranoid that someone will pull back the veil and shout, “She shouldn’t be here! She’s weird!”

I rewrite the story in my head: it was Junior High…everyone is awful in Junior High. Everyone has a story like this one in Junior High, mine isn’t special. I shouldn’t have let those girls define me. And YES, girl, it probably WAS weird that you suddenly knew all their names without ever having walked up and introduced yourself! But in the end, that story still goes down in my history as the first time I felt not good enough.

So why am I telling you this in month seven?

Because this month I learned that we over think things that don’t matter way too much.

Humans are complex beings with complex emotions, but damn… we go way overboard. We are all crammed together on this magical rock that spins through space and all we think about is how other people see us. We spend our finite time caring about our Instagram grid, if we look skinny in the photo our friend took of us, the numbers and facts and figures of our own personal brand. We spend our time exhausting ourselves with things that actually don’t matter and have no effect on the long term or the big picture.

Maybe the secret isn’t how we present ourselves online, how others perceive us, or our follower count. Maybe the secret is what we give. How we make the lives of others better. How we add value, how we serve, how we use our unique gifts.

My gift of caring and taking pride in my work still exists. A gift that I found and ignored in Junior High while organizing props and costumes and dreaming of being on stage.  What is yours? Where did you find it? How will you use it?

We are all sensitive, fragile and insecure. Every single one of us. Especially those who pretend not to be. Use that fact to connect… to give acceptance and security when you can. To encourage and strengthen someone who needs it. We are stardust and magic and I believe in the good in us.

Denise Karis is an Arizona photographer who enjoys musicals, Doctor Who and breakfast burritos. IG @denisekaris