This blog post is lightly adapted from a speech Eve Fitzsimmons shared at the 2017 Summer Workshop
I’d like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a girl. This girl was quiet, shy, super introverted, and really liked corners. Drawing attention to herself was off limits. She prayed that people would just smile and keep walking. Talking to people was the worst. Besides her obvious dorky homeschooler side, there were the difficult feats of forming coherent sentences and avoiding any topic that would bring out her terrifying fangirl side.
Beyond that, though, there seemed to be an unspoken expectation in the world of how to talk and act, and this girl was so afraid of getting it wrong. She thought she was awkward, so she never went out of her way to talk to anyone. She was constantly wondering what everyone else was thinking, wondering if this façade, this mask she wore, was socially acceptable or if everyone judged her for it.
After faking it through life for so long, the girl found that she was tired, tired of keeping herself intact. But the girl figured if she kept her mask on long enough, it would become who she was, and then she wouldn’t have to try so hard.
Time went by, and the girl was growing up, perfecting her masks, make-believing she knew who she was, faking that she was comfortable in her own skin. She knew she did it well because people complimented her on how chill or comfortable she was. On the inside, she was screaming.
Her secret remained safe; her shell remained perfectly intact. But this girl, she had no idea who she was, what made her her. The worst part was that she didn’t know why she didn’t know.
To her discomfort, the girl was dragged off to camp. She did not want to go. She didn’t want to have to keep her mask intact before that many new and unknown people who weren’t even her friends. She didn’t want to hang out with more fake people for a week, pretending to be great friends, only to never speak until next year.
But go she did, and when she got there, she was met with the strangest thing.
First of all, everyone hugged her…which was weird…and she had no idea what to do with all that nonsense.
Second, she encountered the most genuine people she had ever met.
To be completely honest, she didn’t know what to do with that foreign concept either. It was intimidating to have that much realness in front of her, evident in every person she interacted with. Just when she thought it couldn’t get stranger, all of those people, those wonderful people, accepted her for who she was.
A question glared in her mind. “Here these people are, accepting me for who I am, but, that begs the question, who am I?”
Three years ago, I would never have told anyone any kind of story from my life, especially one that drastically changed me. I mean, it’s a big thing, finding out who you are.
I met OYANers—you—who are just wonderfully real people, and I was inspired. I saw your realness, and I wanted it. Like a domino effect, I saw the realness, I embraced it, was finally real with myself, and thus, I found out who I was.
Well, this seems like a wonderful, happy, everything-turns- out-right- in-the-end story. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not.
I did take the realness home with me each year after the Summer Workshop. I would have these high hopes that I was going to be real at home too, show them how it’s done. “This year! This is the year it will last!” I would think. At some point during the year, though, that confidence would fizzle out.
For the first few weeks after a Summer Workshop, being real is pretty easy since I’m still on a high. But then the expectations of the world come up again. I go to other camps, and it gets harder and harder, because people aren’t real in this way, and I have to act a certain way. It gets harder when I go to work every day, and I know those people aren’t being real, and I just have to do my job. Even when I go to church it gets harder, because the people at my church aren’t you, aren’t real in this way, and there’s an expectation for me to meet. It gets harder when I start to think too much again.
I’m going to share another real moment with all of you. When it gets harder, what happens? It gets easier to forget. I forget. I forget who I am, I forget how to be real, and I forget it a lot. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to be the only real one, the only OYANer. Sometimes, the fact that I can’t see any of my OYAN friends overwhelms me, and I can’t even try because it feels so lonely. I step back and look around me, and there are so few real people. It’s scary. It’s intimidating. It makes me want to just blend in like I’ve always done, like I know I can do. Go back to faking being chill and comfortable for everyone, and bring out those masks again.
I have a hunch that a lot of you have had something like that go through your head, and if you have, then listen to me, because I have it go through my head every day: Courage, dear heart.
Being real is a choice; it’s a hard choice, one that I know I have to try to make multiple times a day.
My challenge to all of you is to find the courage to stay real. Find the courage to take what we OYANers have here together, and spread it to everyone you meet. There’s this quote I found that says “To be inspired is great. To inspire is incredible.” You guys, when you’re real, you inspire. When you inspire someone, you can change a life. I mean, you changed mine, so that’s proof it can be done. I can’t think of a cooler opportunity than that.
Be warned, for it can grow very difficult. You may want to give up because it would be so much easier. The temptation may arise to be in the fake majority but I would encourage you to plant yourself in our real minority and endeavor to make it the majority.
Before I close, I’d like to thank you. Thank you for changing my life, thank you for helping me find who I was, and thank you for inspiring me.
So finally, my friends, the culmination of this whole shebang, my charge to you:
Be courageous, keep inspiring, and stay real.
Do you have a place or event you return to because it helps you be wholehearted and real with yourself and others?
Eve Fitzsimmons has been part of the One Year Adventure Novel community for several years. She is a homeschool student from Wisconsin who enjoys storytelling in many forms: writing, drama, music, and dance.