I have a dilemma.
I am a twenty-something woman, and for the first time in my life, I have to choose whether or not I should go to my high school reunion.
I’m dreading it. I’m intrigued. I’m nervous. I’m excited. I’m over it.
All of these emotions have circulated through my mind since I received the invitation, and I’ve been trying to make sense of them.
I’ve realized that all of my anticipation about this reunion stems from fear. I am afraid that who I have become will not be enough in the presence of my high school peers. I worry that I will compare myself to “the cool kids” once again.
High school reunions challenging because most of us compare ourselves to our peers in ways that can never bring us happiness.
We know that comparisons are fruitless. As mature adults, surely we can express our true, mature selves with confidence and ease, even if we remember the worst about our high school comrades.
At the same time, most of us know all-too-well the feeling of returning to your hometown and regressing to your 16-year-old self.
Reunions remind us of awkward, uncomfortable beginnings.
Often times high school reunions involve coming face to face with people who made you feel something negative when you were younger.
And even though you’ve grown since high school, you’re suddenly placed in the same company (sometimes even the same location) that you were in when you were grappling with self confidence and felt uncomfortable in your own skin.
You are emotionally thrown back into the hallways where you felt a desperate need to fit in, but also a nagging desire to express your true self.
Those were difficult times; for many, it was the first time you learned some of the more difficult truths about love, belonging, betrayal, and shame.
To navigate this jungle of emotional memories, you have to consciously remember who you are and how far you’ve come. You have to feel love for yourself and compassion towards your peers. And that can be difficult when you’re in the company of people that your brain associates with fear and pain.
Many people end up shielding themselves from the vulnerability of reunions by comparing themselves to their peers. But constant comparing turns a simple high school reunion into a measuring tool for success.
This is the epitome of the “where are they now” mindset: figure out how far you’ve come, figure out how far they’ve come, and see how you compare.
The subconscious thought is, “If I am more successful than _______, I’m doing alright.”
We secretly hope that everyone else (or at least someone) is worse off than ourselves, and if they’re not, we get angry and bitter.
I experienced this when I stumbled upon the social media profile of a girl from my high school.
All of my memories of her depict her as manipulative and condescending, but also as the girl who had everything. She was the girl with natural beauty, flawless confidence, raw talent in athletics and a witty sense of humor. She was the girl I could never be.
So when I discovered through her posts that she’s flourishing in ways I want to flourish myself, I had a strong, negative reaction.
I saw pictures of her doing yoga, and I scoffed. Yoga is my thing, my bitter internal voice growled.
I found that she writes for an open-source blog. Writing is my dream, my inner 3rd grader whined.
She referenced eating healthy (potentially vegan) in a few posts. That can’t be right. That can’t be, I fumed.
Fortunately, my experience with mindfulness helped me neutralize those thoughts. Almost immediately I acknowledged that I was feeling envious, jealous, even angry. I was surprised at the emotions that came forth, and felt compelled to try and understand them.
I realized that I was comparing myself to her in a way that didn’t really make sense. She and I are entirely different people, and we have both changed since high school. But in my subconscious mind, if she was struggling in her own life, it validated the choices I have made – because it would mean that my choices brought me more success than hers brought her.
But it was clear that she wasn’t struggling. She was happy, and healthy. And that made me uncomfortable because I felt like she beat me to the finish line.
Comparing ourselves to others works like a one-two punch; it gives us unrealistic goals, then beats us down for not reaching them. These comparisons belittle our own achievements, and make results seem more important than growth.
My comparisons between myself and this girl plagued my high school career, and they resurfaced in full force when I saw her again.
But success isn’t concrete; rather, it’s arbitrary.
The dreams that I have for myself don’t have a clear endpoint when I can suddenly check them off my to-do list. Those dreams represent journeys, slow growth, and experience.
I want to be an experienced, accomplished yogini. For me that will involve becoming a certified yoga teacher, and fine-tuning my own practice.
I want to be a writer. I want to have a life where I can create things every day – where I can put my thoughts into words, and send them out into the world.
I want to be healthy. I want to feel strong, energized, and alive.
All of these dreams are defined by my own growth. In so many ways I have already achieved these goals, but I still strive for more progress, because these are my passions.
And even though this girl has found herself through a similar path, that doesn’t mean those dreams are any less mine. My yoga practice, my writing, and my health are not tainted by her success. It just means that maybe we have more in common than I ever realized; maybe she isn’t the villain, and I’m not the victim. Maybe we’re just two people who are drawn to the same place, but took very different routes to get there.
I still don’t know if I’m going to go to my reunion, but I’m trying to embrace the idea. If I go, it will be an exercise in acknowledging the differences between myself and others without placing an arbitrary ruler in between us. It will give me a chance to learn about my former peers in a new light, and maybe to forgive them for the pain they brought me.
Most importantly, it will force me to step into an arena where my typical defense would be comparing and judgement, and not allow myself to participate. It will force me to find strength and confidence from within, rather than seeking it out by measuring myself up to others. It will be a crash course in the “I Am Enough” ideology.
And who knows? Maybe I will be surprised by the connections I make – maybe I will find validation without even expecting it.