While we have reputations to uphold, are they holding us back?
Whenever I come back to visit my hometown, I am reminded of the world I left behind, one that is very dependent on reputation and public image. Anybody from a smaller town knows that everybody talks about everybody else. Any slight deviation from the norm is the immediate talk of the town.
This quality is especially difficult for those who try to build up a very respectable reputation. Throughout my time growing up, that felt like the ultimate goal, to be associated with the best qualities and always being my best self. I mean, I think everybody has some longing to be known and recognized for something, whether that’s good or bad. It’s better to be something rather than nothing, right?
Well, I was striving toward the good side of things. But even after working hard to establish for myself an admirable image, it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If others expect you to be the best student in the class, the one who will always be nicest person in the room, or the one who will always work the hardest, anything less than that leads to questions and concerns.
Perhaps even worse is the standards we place on ourselves. While we can adopt a mentality that says “Who cares what other people think?” but the ultimate judge is ourselves. Especially for those of us who are perfectionists, who strive for unrealistically high standards and feel crushed when we can’t meet them.
Personally, I feel like I have many forces and emotions at all times, trying to pull me in different directions. Wouldn’t it be nice to just not think for awhile, let my many responsibilities go and do something fun or relaxing. But then I’ll feel anxious and guilty for not “being productive enough.” When I’m someone who usually works several weeks ahead on assignments to stay on top of everything and go above and beyond the minimums, letting myself be a little more lax is very difficult. If I know what my best is and what my potential is, making a mistake is just that much harder to cope with.
So either way, from others or from yourself, going against an established reputation turns into disappointment. And there’s one feeling I despise the most, it’s feeling like I’m disappointing others and myself. But why do we feel obligated to adhere to certain criteria and anything besides that is wrong? I will even avoid seeing people when I know I’m feeling lower just to not have people assume or worry.
Let me tell you, keeping up a public image and facade can be exhausting. Just knowing how people view mental health and how it manifests at the drop of a hat, I’ve become a pretty good actor, hiding any inner battles with a smile and serious mentality toward academics. When you learn to become very high-functioning, any crack in the armor feels like ultimate defeat.
Social media also doesn’t help with keeping up a reputation. With every post and image that is linked to your account, never truly being able to delete the content, we basically have the responsibility to maintain a satisfactory reputation 24/7. Every action, online and offline, turns into an inner dilemma wondering what’s right and wrong. We see other people’s profiles, wondering if we can do better and try harder to keep up. It’s a battle we’ll just never be able to win nor see an end in sight.
Another area of concern in personal image is appearance. And, with my tendencies, those usually turn toward body image. Much of the physical representation of my eating disorder focused on controlling and maintaining an unrealistic small shape. I judged my reputation and worth on the amount of flesh I could grab on particular body parts. Which, when explained in that wording, sounds slightly ridiculous. But in the recesses of the disorder, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Even when outside parties could probably care less about that aspect of my image, it was at one point a key factor in how I felt would portray my best self. Luckily, I’m able to distinguish this mentality as one separate from my true personality, but the thought still resides in the back of my mind. I know how to not let it control me, but it can still whisper a few ideas in my ear.
Life sure doesn’t follow by a strict list of expectations. It just happens. And we have to adapt to that, which may end up resulting in actions we wouldn’t expect of ourselves. We’ll stumble upon situations where we won’t know what the best way to react is. We might be placed into conditions where the most necessary option might not look the prettiest to others. Ideally, we can pick up all of our stuff and just leave our old life behind to start completely fresh somewhere else, but sometimes that just isn’t practical. And even then, we wonder what people will think, why we left, speculate reasons.
Even with the standards and reputation I have, I probably never would have pictured some of the memories and experiences I’ve had. And for that, I am so glad to step outside those expectations to just live. I know overthinking over minuscule details usually leads to nowhere, but when I let go of it all, I see an opportunity to perhaps discover something new about myself and take a risk. It’s too easy to live inside a bubble of what’s comfortable and normal, what’s expected of ourselves, but that’s no life prone to growth or change.
In the scheme of everything, reputation is so small in importance. If you have the urge to do something different, just do it. If you need a break from life just to recuperate, just do it. Now I’m sounding like a Nike commercial. But sometimes it really is that simple. Live a life that makes you happy, not one that others, or even yourself, expect you to live.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie