On authenticity, clickbait and blonde Roger Federer

“Be yourself.” The emblem of a Millennial pick-me-up. I remember tanking the shoe kick (a real event, I swear) at fourth grade Track and Field Day. As a token of my failed sneaker fling, I received the, “Be yourself!” ribbon. Those two little, well-meaning words remain etched in my mind, a permanent fixture of growing up in the ‘90s — yet I sometimes abandon them, replacing “me” with a fictional portrait of what others want.

I’ve learned a lot since graduating from college in December. For example, baking cake for dinner is one of those things that sounds like a good idea until you nearly set the oven on fire, try the finished product, realize it’s too sweet and reach for that sensible granola bar in your time of regret.

I’m also better at detecting when I’m not being myself. Typically when I’m trying to impress someone.

I often reflect on how I represent myself in person versus on the Internet. On Twitter, I proudly proclaim my myriad interests, posting photos of the latest page in my Arabic notebook, that glowing (and frightening) picture of blonde Roger Federer, news on the rapidly deteriorating status of free speech in Turkey.

Yet when meeting someone in person, I find myself hiding all of the above, deeming my interests “too out there” for public consumption.

“Be yourself,” it seems, is as difficult at 22 as it was in elementary school, something no number of shiny ribbons or inspirational posters can truly instill in you. In a conscious effort to be more “real,” more like myself, I’ve made tangible lifestyle changes.

I no longer straighten my hair, its naturally chaotic state a daily reminder that it’s OK to be my naturally chaotic self.

I give myself permission to write terrible first drafts, make that cringe-worthy tennis pun and get a little overzealous with the em dash. Though none of the above will wind up in the final piece (probably for the better), there’s something raw and beautiful about capturing the self, unedited, suspended in a specific moment and frame of being — one that will never again manifest in exactly the same way.

“29 Llamas That Just Can’t Even.” “42 Ways Istanbul Is So Beautiful It Actually Hurts.” I’m a sucker for “life-changing” cat pictures, “You won’t believe it!” headlines and some Kardashian’s week on Instagram.

But I’ve stopped clicking those “23 Things Every Girl Should Have/See/Experience By [Insert Arbitrary Age].” Milestones aren’t contingent on Facebook life events or existing a certain number of years on Earth; I determine my own milestones on my own timeline.

“Being yourself,” I’ve realized, is a lifelong journey, one in which I’m bound to simultaneously make progress and make mistakes. One where derpy llamas, beautiful Turkish mosques, the fourth-grade shoe kick and blonde Roger Federer (may his bleached presence never again grace this Earth) can coexist.

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