There’s a few types of silence that can hardly be called silence because it speaks volumes. No one says anything, but then again, no one has to.

“Oh, well you’ve changed.”

“You used to laugh at that.”

“What, am I not good enough for you anymore?”

You can feel the comments like humidity on your face, pressing, insistent and invisible. At least, that’s how I feel sometimes when I meet up with people from high school.

I spent my senior year doing full-time Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) at a community college that no one else I knew was going to. So although it hasn’t been that long since I’ve seen my friends — I’m not some college sophomore awkwardly bumping into someone at Starbucks — it certainly feels like it.

I think a big part of that is because I fully accept who I am, even if that might not be the person they’re expecting. In high school, it’s easy to feel stuck, liking the same things, hanging with the same people and trapped in the same drama, feuds and bad habits. For me, there wasn’t one single thing obviously wrong or to blame, but I would look around and know this wasn’t the person I wanted to be.

Fortunately, I had a year to take a step back and get some perspective. Not everyone is so lucky. I know there are a billion reasons not to change the status quo, especially when you don’t have space to figure it all out. It’s not easy when everyone is present and expecting you to behave as you always have. But the point that I hope you walk away with is that it’s okay. I repeat: it’s okay.

You’re allowed to change your opinions. You’re allowed to change your look and major and taste in music. Promise. If, in seven years, every cell in your body will be new, what right do you have to stay exactly the same?

Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.

— Arthur Miller

Now, I’m not saying to forget who you were. Forgetting history only makes you doomed to repeat it. Nor do you need to construct a stranger and try to fit yourself into their skin. “Being a different person in college” isn’t about becoming who you always wanted to be. Because that person — the one who drinks coffee every morning and still has unnervingly white teeth; the one who works a chill job on campus, but somehow always has money to spend — may be amazing, but they also may not be you.

Personally, I had this issue where I believed I had to be perfect. I had to be involved in everything, do more than my fair share and do it with a smile. You see, somewhere along the line I had tied my worth as a person to how much weight I could carry on my shoulders without falling over. After all, I was just Tamira. I had to prove my value over and over again because lord knows I didn’t think I had any. The skin I stuffed myself in was the girl who took care of everyone else first and oh, did it itch.

My senior year was about taking care of the girl who was always last on her list. What does she really love to do and what things hurt her heart? It took me a while to figure out that to accept yourself, you have to know who you are in the first place. And that’s why it’s important to make the process of learning about yourself — even if you end up a bit different than you remember — okay. The way I see it, if you’re not cringing at least a little when you think about who you used to be, you’re not growing.

However, this doesn’t have to be a passive process. If you don’t like how much you gossip, change it. If you want to be healthier, work on it. We have control over one thing in this world: ourselves. When you look back — whether it be in four, 10 or 50 years — you won’t be looking at the type of life you’ve led. That’s the thing about legacy: it’s not about the journey; it’s about who you allow the journey to make you.

Lead Image Credit: Jordan McQueen