Arianna Stern, “growing up is crazy 1/2”

Arianna Stern’s post appeared on tumblr and I know it’s important to take note of that. The audience there for the most part is younger and may want to hear stories about things like this:

When I look back, I’m embarrassed at how uptight and socially awkward I was [in high school]. I know that a lot of creative adults look back and say, “Oh, I was such a nerd!” almost like a badge of pride. It’s just that I have a feeling I was a little dorkier than most.

You can already tell why I felt the need to give this post more attention. More than most places online, tumblr features a number of kids who are upfront about their identity, the “fact” they don’t fit in, are not terribly aware (awareness takes a LOT of experience) but at times really suspicious & hostile. I know it’s important to focus on the fact some really, really bad social habits can be learned at a younger age. I go to a university where quite a few people think they’re awesome being social because they talked to someone who wasn’t part of their immediate family once. The kinds of awkwardness religious fundamentalism can create may be a different set of issues, but I’m not so sure nowadays. One of the things that stunned me about my little old conservative university was how much the cliquish, small-group dynamic had in common with stories from Oberlin and Reed.

Anyway. The author comments further:

It’s hard for me to tell if I didn’t really fit in with much of my graduating class or if I habitually pre-excluded myself before others could reject me, to my own detriment. Facebook tends to support the former interpretation, confirming that the people I’d written off continue to do shit that’s of little interest to me. As for the latter, it’s like, I met up with my friends Tyler and Danielle, both of whom went to my high school. It was so enjoyable to talk to them, and I regretfully thought about all the people I might have been friends with in high school if I had been brave enough to try.

I don’t feel like I’m all that much older than a high school student—I’m 23—but the people in my graduating class have grown in different directions. The conventional wisdom that weird-ish kids grow up to do cool shit turned out to be pretty true, like how Tyler is a boy genius who wrote for the NYT already at like, 21, and Danielle makes hand-painted bike helmets.

What’s neat is how perception is changing, even at 23. It seems like Facebook confirms that yes, most people in high school were losers. And that our author’s friends are awesome. So that’s it, right? We’re done here! Everybody on tumblr can go back to rejoice in being weird, knowing that success will follow.

But it’s obviously not that simple. There are people who she could have met if she’d been “brave enough to try.” We know Facebook isn’t going to contain any of the really interesting things people do. I don’t post status updates like “writing on whether Nietzsche has a conception of Christian epistemology that he rejects,” and yet that’s what I’ve been up to today. People have “grown in different directions.” When you realize “hey, I’m 23,” you also realize “hey, I can definitely be surprised.” This leads to some advice that’s pretty good:

Being awkward around people is really painful at first, cause you can often tell when someone is judging you, but you can outgrow it through trial and error, basically, and then social interactions can be painless and even fun.

This is solid advice. I don’t usually go this direction because I think people have to bring something to social interactions – real curiosity about a person, a willingness to learn, knowledge of their own that they won’t bully someone with. In fact, it’s helpful to be reminded that kids feel like they’re being judged all the time. After all, they’re aware of the judging they’re doing on a continual basis. More on how we can create a less “defensive” world later. For now, I think I’d better learn to be less awkward around people myself.

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