As I mentioned before, I recently returned from a Class Reunion in Pocatello, Idaho. Now I wasn’t even going to go, at first. In fact, I was a holdout until practically the last minute. I had been having some weird, inexplicable anxiety about it for weeks. There was no rational reason for feeling insecure, nervous, or anxious about it – I just did, and was having difficulty figuring out where it was coming from.
I had a great time in high school. I had some great friends, I wasn’t the subject of any scandal that I can remember, and I don’t have any old boyfriends that would be painful to see or anything. I just felt kinda weird about it. In fact, I even had a dream about it – I don’t remember if it was a good dream or a bad dream, but the idea that I was dreaming about the reunion at all kind of concerned me.
I asked myself if it was that I had any regrets about my teen years. Of course, the answer was both yes and no – not too many perfectly righteous teenagers out there – and I wasn’t one of them, but there was nothing I was really ashamed or embarrassed about. I did the normal talking-about-people and spreading-gossip stuff that teenage girls do. But nothing major that would warrant any of my classmates visiting me in slumber.
Was it that I wished I’d accomplished more? Traveled more? Studied more? Gotten a couple more degrees? Written a book? Maybe. Looking back, realizing that – well – a large number of years has passed, you suddenly start getting accountable for how you’ve spent them. But that wasn’t really it. After all – I didn’t care who was doing what, or who was considered the “most successful” or any of that crap (pardon my language but it IS crap!) that people care about at a 10-year reunion. I doubted whether anyone would care what I was doing, or how successsful I was, or anything like that. And I didn’t feel the need or desire to talk about or justify the last 20 years of my life to anyone, so that wasn’t the source.
Was it the way I looked? After all, as much as I try to avoid it, I AM getting older. And things don’t look the same as they did when I was 17 years old any more. I sat with that one for a long time, before I realized that, to some degree, that was it. After a long, hard sit down with my ego, I realized that I was concerned that I wouldn’t be cute! Am I a vain, self-absorbed FREAK or what? Was I ever even cute at all? Who knows? And if I ever was – where had it gone?
A week before the reunion, instead of thinking about how great it was going to be to reunite with my old buddies and girlfriends, I was thinking, “Dangit! Is it too late to lose 5 pounds? I probably can’t get ripped arms in 5 days, can I? I should have been squeezing in an extra workout here and there. Am I wrinkly? EEK! I’m wrinkly! Why did I ever sit out in the sun? Are my teeth sparkly and white? I wonder if I should get a haircut? Do I look as old as other people my age look? Maybe I should visit my dermatologist for an emergency-treatment of some kind? Plastic surgery is out of the question – but maybe I can camouflage my flaws with makeup?”
It was endless – the mental energy I was spending on useless thoughts like that was embarrassingly consuming. I’m embarrassed even thinking about it now. I’m no SuperModel – why do I care so much? Well – it was too late to lose 5 lbs. Especially since that was about the same time I started stress eating. And I AM a little wrinkly. And my teeth aren’t movie-star white. And I don’t get carded any more. So I must look my age. And dermatology is expensive.
Although all those kinds of insecurities have occasionally raised their ugly heads as I’ve gotten older, I tend to just find those kinds of thoughts to be annoying and unproductive. I can usually brush them off and ignore them, and be happy that I’m able to do what I can to take care of myself. But it wasn’t happening this time. I was on a mission. Mission: Imperfectus. Mission: Self Destructus. Mission: Reunionitis. Why couldn’t I let it go?
After I had decided and made the commitment to go, I became consumed with STUPID obsessions about what I would wear to what event; would I wear my hair down, or pulled back? Contacts or glasses? Sandals or pointy-toes shoes? (Sandals won, by the way – I had treated myself to a pedicure). Which color looked better on me – blue or pink? Capri pants or a skirt? What if the weather makes my hair flat? What if the humidity makes me break out? Were my clothes out of fashion? Exactly how much bigger IS my butt?
I could go on and on, and I DON’T KNOW WHY. It’s embarrassing – but it was so bad, I packed 12 outfits for 2 days. Took 7 pairs of shoes. Even bought some new underclothes. What was the deal? Obviously I needed to “unpack” all these feelings.
So I did some work. I made a list of all those irrational, unhealthy and negative thoughts, and came up with a reasonable response to each one. I even kept it on a notecard and studied it. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to overcome all the negative little gremlins that talk in our heads and keep us frustrated, stuck, and paralyzed.
I won’t go into all the details about what my new, more logical perspectives and responses were, but I will tell you this. I realized that I haven’t seen most of these people in nearly 20 years. That alone tells me that what they think of me hasn’t mattered too much in all that time – and certainly shouldn’t matter now.
I also realized that even though I have come to terms with the fact that I’m not 18 any more – neither are any of them! Every last one of them is 20 years older, too! And I’ll bet you anything that many of them are struggling with the same mental garbage about their looks, how they’ve spent their time, what kind of person they’ve become, and on and on. I wonder how many people deliberately didn’t go to the reunion because of it? I honestly hope not too many. Because as it turned out, it wasn’t about that at all.
The reunion was wonderful. Seeing my old friends was – GREAT! (A really cheesy word for a really incredible experience for me.) All my fears and worries vanished immediately the moment I saw so many people that had been such an important part of my life years ago. And it was like barely a year had passed. We were all so different, and yet so much the same!
It wasn’t at all about who was doing what. It wasn’t about who had gone to what college, or who had the coolest job, or who had the most kids.
It wasn’t about who looked the best, or who looked the worst, and certainly not about what we were wearing.
In fact, I don’t remember a single memorable outfit in the crowd – which means all my worries about my own outfit were just plain silly and immature.
So what was it about?
It was about friendship. Appreciating each other. Getting to know each other as we are NOW instead of trying to recapture what we WERE back then. It was about enjoying each others’ company, telling funny stories, and indulging in some happy memories.
It was about reconnecting. Letting all the insecurities go, and just enjoying the experience. It was about visiting and appreciating snippets of past experiences, people, and places, and being grateful for how far we’ve come. It was about finding commonalities – even after that many years – and appreciating family and friends. It was about – well, it was about companionship; not about competition. Allowing people to change, and appreciating them for it.
And for me? For me, it was most about having an opportunity to really look inside and figure out how to overcome a pattern of thought that was threatening to really rock my self-confidence, and put me on a path of self-pity.
You know, I’ve been at this for a long time. I use coaching, motivation, and therapeutic tools every day to help my clients overcome negative self-talk, and use them in my own personal life as well and yet I am STILL amazed at how much I have yet to learn, and am grateful for opportunities to do so.
Thank you, Highland Classmates, for what was truly a highlight of this decade. Personally, I don’t think I can have too many friends, and it’s certainly easier to maintain the ones you’ve got than to make new ones.
I look forward to having you all in my mental database of people who have been important in my life, and people with whom I hope to always be friends. See you at the 30th – wrinkles and all!