There are times when I really struggle with my self-perception. I get caught up in a whirlwind of worry about how my peers are perceiving and judging me, because the unfortunate fact of the matter is that perception and judgment are parts of humanity. We assess and assign labels to organize our view on society, which can sometimes lead to insecurity and feeling as if you’re on the outside looking in. Sometimes, we can be harsher with our self-perception than our peers are, because we see all of the insecurities they may not even be paying attention to. I’ve never self-identified as part of the fabled “in” crowd—“friendly” yes, “popular” not so much. My mom calls me an “old soul,” which roughly translates to “likes tea, old books, old movies, hanging out with her parents, snuggle dates with her boyfriend, and prefers nights in with the cat to nights out on the town.” Also, “designated mother”—there’s a reason I own a college grandma shirt, and it’s not because I got a jump start on my continuing the family line.

I like the person that I am. I try my best to be kind, honest, and giving to those around me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get insecure. Everyone craves acceptance from their peers from time to time, and sometimes it can feel as if my personality is a novelty because of my motherly (and “old soul-ish”) nature. I’m generally an early riser, early sleeper, and I’m not one to crank up too many shots on a school night. I have fun, but sometimes that fun gets translated a little differently than is traditionally expected of a twenty year old college girl. When I was a freshman, my roommate and I were opposites in that sense: she was the one getting cute to go out and mingle, I was the one staying in my pajamas with popcorn, reminding her to take her key and letting her know I’d keep my phone by my bed if she ran into trouble. I enjoyed my date nights with Netflix, because time alone is how I recharge—one of the bare necessities of being an introvert.

To be completely honest, I hate parties. The few that I’ve been to have been loud conglomerations of sweaty drunk people trying to hook up with each other, and I have a boyfriend that I kind of plan on keeping—all the more reason to buy myself the alcohol I actually like and turn up with people who won’t try another crappy line on me. Parties are totally fine, but not-parties are totally fine too, which is something that’s easy to forget when you’re surrounded by a culture that seems to scream at you that if you’re not “going out” and not partying enough (or at all, really), you’re not socializing properly.

I love to have fun and get the most out of my life, I just have a different way of achieving that… we all do. It doesn’t matter whether your fun Friday night means getting dressed up or going to the bar or finally slowing down after a crazy week; all that matters is that you’re doing what makes you happy and that the people around you allow you to do that. To be a little cliché, life is far too short to waste time worry about how your preferred version of living matches up to what anyone expects of you, because it’s your life. Live it how you want, as comfortably (or uncomfortably) as you want. The people who matter will stick by you, and that’s the only crowd you need to worry about being “in” with.

Cliques used to freak me out. I used to worry about how I matched up to definitions and labels and it made me super insecure, because I fit in a lot more with the “nerdy” kids than the “cool” ones. When you’re young (and even when you’re not-so-young), it can seem like matching up with that “cool” label is the only way to gain acceptance and feel comfortable with who you are… and when you’re thirteen with braces and blue highlights, you desperately need that comfort. Luckily for me, the desire for acceptance was never strong enough for me to change the person who I was becoming—I stayed that “old soul” nerd, and eventually, I found my own “in crowd” to run with who made me realize my skin fit just right (especially once my hair was all one color again).

Being a writer has taught me to embrace the parts of myself that can sometimes invoke those insecurities, because like it or not writing means articulating a piece of yourself “no filter.” When I write, I put out the rawest, most natural parts of myself, and it is there oftentimes where I find a peaceful reconciliation between the person that I am, the person I want to be, and the person I feel I should be. When I am writing is when I most honestly connect with myself, and it is then that I find I can fully express myself without the fear of judgment or a label. When I write, my soul is saying what my mouth sometimes can’t, and I’m just Katlyn: no more, no less. Communicating me teaches me to really listen to myself exactly as I am, and reminds me that I’m doing the best I can and that’s enough.

Acceptance from your peers starts with accepting yourself, sans label. We live in a culture that can emphasize homogeneity, but realizing what makes you, you tells you all you need to know about that abstract concept of “fitting in.” Most of the time, that stock “cool” label doesn’t fit quite right and it reminds you that everyone else is probably just as confused as you are. We all have a piece of that blue-haired, bracefaced teenager inside us, and even though she’s awkward, she’s getting there. The important thing is remembering there’s only one you. My “me” is a writer, a reader, a tea-drinker, a movie-watcher, a cat lady, a girlfriend, a daughter, a best friend, and even a little bit of mother (even though I don’t have kids of my own to dote on just yet). She’s an “old soul” definitely a dork, and so much more, and I wouldn’t have her any other way. I still sometimes get worried about whether or not I’m “cool enough” for the people around me, but I try to remember that as long as you come as you are, it will all work out. I might be wearing my grandma shirt today, but this Saturday I jumped into the ocean, which just goes to show that no label is all-purpose.

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