Julianna Conley | Thursday, November 14, 2019
Like many ridiculously attractive young adults in coming-of-age films, I changed a lot this semester. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: I’ve officially made the switch to mint toothpaste.
For readers lacking intimate knowledge of my teeth brushing habits, I’ve spent the last 19 years polishing my pearly whites with Disney Princess bubblegum. An ardent opponent of all things mint, even after my age moved into the double digits, I was never quite able to stomach adult toothpaste.
On a recent trip where I could only take carry-on luggage though, my full-sized tube of bubblegum wouldn’t fly (literally). There was only one thing to do: reconcile my rough relationship with the flavor and pack the travel sized Colgate collecting dust in the back of my bathroom cabinet.
After the initial shock of the minty flavor wore off — the first few brushings were ROUGH — I actually didn’t mind the toothpaste that much. Sure, the weird numbing feeling took some getting used to, and I doubt I’ll be hitting up my local Girl Scouts for Thin Mints come February, but I could now endure a brushing with minimal wincing or nose-plugging. What’s more, I actually noticed a marked improvement in my dental hygiene. My teeth were whiter, my breath was fresher, and when I ran my tongue across my teeth, I swear they felt cleaner.
I faced a dilemma. For so long, I’ve felt defined by my finicky habits. How could I abandon my Disney Princess bubblegum when it’d become such an integral part of my identity? Still, I couldn’t help admiring my new white smile. It made me wonder what cost I’d been paying to hold on to this pigeonholed idea of “who I am.” What else had I missed out on, what other opportunities for personal growth had been forgone because I was to afraid to step out of my comfort zone?
Recently, a friend interrupted her usual barrage of memes and overheard quotes to DM me a picture of a sign that read, “You don’t owe your old self any say in who you want to be now.” While I’m normally not a “Live, Laugh, Love” kinda girl, this calligraphed sign struck a chord with me. Just weeks earlier, while rereading a kindergarten journal, I’d felt a pang of guilt that I’m no longer on my way to being a professional ballerina slash concert pianist. While I realize that particular dream was unlikely to come to fruition, I couldn’t help feeling as if I’d let down my younger self, as if every time I change my dream, I’m quitting on my true destiny.
It’s easy to feel stuck in our roles, destined to always be who we are now. We exert so much effort defining ourselves, by the time we’ve finished writing the definition, we’re too proud of our handiwork to evaluate if it’s even still relevant. We build an identity around us, a safe frame that proclaims and protects our values, our sense of being, but boxes us in. Our identities can feel like life preservers to hold on to, safe beacons of personhood in uncertain waters, but if we’re not careful, they can quickly transform into chains dragging us into one-dimensional caricatures.
Too often, I’ve realized the solution to a problem, noticed a more efficient way of doing things, but I didn’t speak up because I thought I wasn’t the group-leader type. Too often, I wanted to wear the bold dress, to sign up for the camp basketball tournament, to volunteer to give the speech, but I held back because I thought I couldn’t be “that girl.” Because I didn’t realize I choose who I am.
This summer, as a camp counselor, I was called on stage to join a camper singing. My first instinct was to vehemently shake my head, to flat out refuse. After all, I’m not the kind of girl who sings in public. But when I took a moment’s pause and evaluated how I was actually feeling, I realized I wasn’t afraid at all. I was ready to climb on that stage. To meet the girl I’d long ago become.
We can’t be afraid to leave our self-made boxes. We must step out, must expand and redefine our comfort zones. We must know who we are, but we must also be open to meeting who we will become.
Julianna Conley loves cereal, her home state of California and the em dash. A sophomore in Pasquerilla East, if Julianna can’t be found picnicking on North Quad, she can be reached for comment at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.