Common Feelings of Differentness

I recently read some biographical accounts from people who struggled with various issues. They all pointed out feeling different from other kids as they were growing up. These and other experiences of my own and of people that I know caused me to wonder:

Is there anyone out there who has made it through adolescence always feeling like they were Okay, they fit it perfectly and had a wonderful time? If so, I would love to hear your story.

I have made the transition from Soccer Mom to Soccer Grandma. I enjoyed watching my girls play and now get to watch my grandchildren. As the oldest, my ten year old grandson, finished his last game of the season and was walking with his teammates off the field, it caused me to reflect a bit. This group of boys made a good deal of improvement from the beginning of the fall season to this last game of spring. When they began, some of them didn’t even know each other. Fortunately they had a good coach who encouraged them each individually, and also managed to teach them to work together as a team. They easily won their spring games. Watching them play, I got to know a little of their personalities. They are all unique with different strengths and quirks. It has been rather entertaining to watch them play. As they left that day, I wondered about where their future paths would take them.

The field they were leaving just happens to be across the street from the Junior High School which I had attended. Junior High was not a highlight of my life. In fact, sometimes I wonder how I survived it at all. I realized that in a very short time, these boys would be entering Junior High or Middle School. I wondered how they would navigate it and what experiences awaited them.

My first day in Junior High I got lost trying to get to the art room and was late for class. I had to share a locker with someone I didn’t know because I had no close friends from elementary school in my home room class. I watched everyone pair up choosing locker-mates and I was left with another stray. She was a nice girl and we got along fine, but that was among many times I felt left out. It was awkward walking past the group of “popular” Ninth graders – the ones who seemed to have it all together and everyone wanted to be like. I was nothing like them. I was a good student, but very shy. P.E. class was a nightmare, especially in the locker room. We had dances after school where I stood with others holding up walls hoping someone would ask me to dance. I could go on and on with embarrassing details.

I realize that many kids enter adolescence with much more baggage than I did. Some have physical disabilities and limitations. Many have learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders. Many have emotional issues such as anxiety or depression. Many lives in homes full of turmoil. (I have come to believe that most families fall somewhere on the dysfunctional continuum, though some are obviously more dysfunctional and destructive than others.) As I have grown up I have gotten a sense that most people had similar feelings, even some that appeared to have it all together. In reality they just had a different set of issues, maybe less visible ones. Feeling awkward and different and out of place is pretty common for teenagers – and also many adults. So I asked my beginning question:  Has anyone not felt this way, at least at times?

I worry about my grandchildren. They each have their own issues and challenges. I don’t know if there is a way to effectively prepare kids for this or to ease their way. I don’t feel that I was able to with my own children. We certainly can not anticipate or protect children from every negative experience, and that would not actually be good for them anyway. Isn’t this the time kids should be gaining a sense of self? Feeling different from others should help one to come to accept their uniqueness, to find and build upon their strengths and interests. We all need to find where we fit in this world and what contributions we can make. The struggles of youth may be the very learning experiences that help us mature into adults.

The perpetual problem is the natural tendency to compare our worst with what we perceive to be the best in others. Unfortunately, that tendency is not limited to adolescents. Wherever we may be in our life’s journey, it would be wise to treat ourselves and others with gentle kindness. We need to accept ourselves with our weaknesses, learn from unpleasant experiences and keep trying to improve. Recognizing that everyone has their own unique challenges and struggles should help us to feel more compassionate towards those we interact with on our journeys. We really have more in common than we think.

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