The other day I was working and blasting some Ben Rector music in my office– a routine thing for me. I’ve listened to every song Ben Rector has ever made– probably a thousand times over by now– but when the song “Like the World Is Going to End” came on, for some reason it stood out to me this time. If we found out the world was going to end, one line talks about “calling everybody who I ever hurt and reconciling.” I thought about who I’ve hurt, and my mind didn’t go to anything recent. In fact, it went all the way back to middle school.
Middle school is a rough time for most of us, and maybe I’m biased, but I think it could be worse for girls. Middle school was the first time I became aware of what I looked like and what people thought of me. I had a lot of firsts in middle school, but probably one of the most impactful things that began for me in middle school was my comparison of myself to others.
My life became a constant effort to measure up. To the pretty girls. To the popular girls. To the girls who had the nicest clothes, shoes, purses, and everything else that was trendy (Hollister and Abercrombie, anyone?). When I really stop and think about it, it makes me sad that I spent such formative years believing that I wasn’t good enough and would never measure up.
I did all the things I thought I was supposed to. I don’t necessarily regret wearing makeup or buying a shirt from a cool store– I look back now and realize they were just silly decisions that don’t matter at all now that I’m more than a decade removed. But there is one thing that I do regret, and that’s how I treated people. All I could think about was boosting my own status and making myself look better, and I didn’t know it at the time, but that selfishness came at a cost.
If I’m being honest, I don’t believe I was a “mean girl,” but I also look back at some of the people who were in my life at that time, and I wonder what could’ve happened if I had treated them with kindness, rather than snubbing them, gossiping about them, or even making sarcastic remarks to their faces to win points with the “cool crowd.” This isn’t a “what if,” story, and I know we can’t change the past, but sometimes I think back on those people and I cringe. If I had to follow the words of that Ben Rector song and call everybody I’d ever hurt to reconcile, I’d be calling people whose last names I can’t remember to apologize for things I don’t remember saying– but I know I was hurtful.
The past is what it is, and knowing that I may never again see some of those people that I hurt in middle school (and beyond, for that matter), I can’t dwell on it. But it does influence how I think today. Am I treating people in a way NOW that will make my 2027 self cringe? Am I truly treating people with kindness as often as I can, or am I still stuck in the selfish rut of using people to make myself look better? The painful truth is that it’s a mix of both, and because I’m an imperfect human, it may be that way until the day I die.
But I’d like to think that just by being aware of my own hurts, I’m slowly learning that other people aren’t as perfect as they appear to be. In some ways, aren’t we all still stuck in middle school? It’s different now, and we’re all generally functioning pretty well for ourselves, I’d say. But we all still have hurts. We feel out of place at times. We feel like we’ll never measure up. We hurt people because we ourselves are hurting.
Maybe our hurts aren’t over whether or not we have a Dooney and Bourke (did I even spell that right?!) purse or the newest color of “potato shoes,” but our hearts still experience that same pain of rejection. Of feeling like the outcast. Of feeling like we don’t belong, and we never will.
As adults, though, we have the advantage of knowing ourselves better. Middle school is confusing, and puberty messes with our hormones and minds. But now, we have the blessing of being just a little bit more self aware (most of us, anyway), and personally, I think it’s time for me to use my own maturity to focus less on myself and more on others. To move past the filters of my own hurt and shame, and to realize that someone out there– EVERYONE out there, really– needs my kindness more than I need them as an emotional punching bag.
I don’t want to relive middle school. I don’t have the happiest memories of that place. But, if digging out some of those memories has forced me to have this shift in perspective, maybe it’s worth it.