Being myself around new people isn’t easy for me. I tense up and put on a fake smile. I say all the right things and worry about what people think of me. I feel intense judgement and worry, “Do they like me?” In the adult world, most of the time this behavior flies, but teenagers will eat you alive the second they realize you’re a big phony. To this day, no teen has ever trusted me while I had my fake personality on. They see right through it.
Last weekend I volunteered as a writing coach working with a group of six 17 and 18-year-olds at College Summit, a three day workshop where high school students from under-resourced schools have the opportunity to work on their college applications and learn more about the college experience. Every year, College Summit serves 50,000 students and 170 schools in 12 states. If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer with high school students, I cannot recommend this experience enough.
Basically, my role was to help each student develop a personal statement that showed the world, “This is me!” This was my second time volunteering with College Summit, and though I knew what to expect, I was still very nervous. The night before I left, I made a promise to myself that I would not be fake. Instead, I would try my hardest to be myself–to be happy when I was happy, quiet when I didn’t want to talk and honest at all times. I would make jokes and poke fun at myself but not in a forced way. I promised myself I would do stupid things and buy into the experience a hundred percent.
As the weekend progressed, I let my guard down and opened up. No, this didn’t mean I shared my life story with everyone, but it did mean I shared my true personality. I did stupid things like dance the Cupid Shuffle and teach my team how to do silly exercises I learned during my time at at City Year. (My boots are on fire . . . anyone, Bueller?) They felt stupid. I felt stupid, but it was fun and I loved every minute of it.
When I moved to the South, I quickly picked up what can only be described as Southern Courtney. Polite, helpful and cheery. Why? Because it’s what I had to do to make it through life down there. Shaking this personality an getting back to being my brass and bold Northern self has taken nearly a year. The thing is, I think I’m finally back and it feels good.
The odd thing no one tells you when you go into intense experiences like College Summit is that the teenagers aren’t the only ones who change. I changed, too. Maybe not forever, but for now.