At a young age I was called stupid, so I spent every possible hour reading as much as I could, proving them wrong. I pored through my Encarta Encyclopedia CD, eating up vast quantities of trivia to flex my prowess of photosynthesis and the French Indian War.
All at once I got glasses, braces, and allergies, and I was cast to the dreaded outer-circle, always looking in, these giant sixth graders wearing size ten Air Jordans while I wore flea market t-shirts that said “I Love Florida” in tattered silkscreen. I tried desperately to get in the inner-ring, hoping for the single glance, the wave to come inside, for someone to call me by my first name and not another slur.
I was always in reaction. Whatever advice or criticism or trend or label that I heard, I would try to appease and appeal, ruminating at night how I could be less stupid, more like everyone who might possibly like me. I learned to feed the vanity of others, to weave an eloquent spell of charm, crafting a personality from books and wit and one-liners and the latest hit song and movie. Whatever I could do to be less foreign, less outside: I forfeited what I wanted for a chance to be what others would want.
All along, I was strangling my own voice. But in a place of manic conformity, where one wrong move could instantly make others cold: What else could I have done but fall in line, fall in love, fall over myself to be welcome?
But I did have a voice. And as constrained as it was, I did have a choice. I thought rejection was worse than death. But really, the only thing worse than rejection is to be accepted for being not you. I had to learn that getting rejected for being me was infinitely better than being accepted for a song and dance that was a borrowed Frankenstein monster, and that serving myself on a platter was a cowardly way to gain validation—a validation that was less real than I was.
Each of us are a voice unto ourselves, gifted by God, just the one we are given. To hold back is to deprive the world of it. The world is better with you in it. You have a song and it must break free. Your voice can carry you.