What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?

We all like to exude that “I don’t give a flipping flip about anything” attitude, but deep down (deeper for some than others), there’s a part of us that is conscious of how others perceive us. We all have our quirks, but there are some things we couldn’t possibly share without feeling a bit… awkward. And not the “she’s so cute when she’s awkward” awkward, but the “she’s so awkward, I’m really uncomfortable” awkward. Maybe you act a certain way because it seems the most courteous thing to do. Maybe you act a certain way because you want to fit in. Maybe you act a certain way because you have something to prove. Maybe you act a certain way to show that you have nothing to prove. But what would you do if you didn’t have to act any longer, if you didn’t need to please anyone or become the idea people have of you?

Dress inappropriately: Inappropriately, not scandalously, although I think I already dress inappropriately drab, and even more so when I’m stressed out at school. Despite my humble exterior, I actually quite like dressing up, but I hardly ever find the occasion to do so. Even though most girls would rather go barefoot than wear heels, I actually like them a lot. They make me feel more sophisticated, more cleaned up, and taller—I need all the height I can get. I’m not the most graceful creature, but the more practice I get, the less clunky I’ll be. However, people can be mean, and if you overdress for an occasion, there could be some people who might snicker, “Who is she trying to impress?” Other superficial things I’d give into would be learning how to use makeup and dying my hair a fun color. This might not be such a big deal for some people, but I have quite the conservative appearance, and people aren’t used to change.

Shop: Specifically, in 1) high-end stores, and 2) the guy’s section. I like getting things, but I don’t like losing money, so I’m in a bit of a dilemma, but after almost-eighteen years of life on this planet, I have made peace with window-shopping. All I want to do is stride into a designer store, try on a gown, maybe take some pictures in the changing room mirror, and then walk back out. You could imagine the storekeeper’s annoyance with a poor teenager like me. It feels almost improper to look at the mannequins or set foot within five meters of the doorway. Anyways, I like to do things to the extreme: dress up as if I’m going to a red carpet event, or get in tune with my inner animal and just be comfortable. Guys have the most simple, comfortable clothes, and I’m a little jealous. I have this irrational thought that if a girl wears a guy’s sweater everywhere, people will think she’s trying to flaunt that she has a boyfriend, because why else would she wear a guy’s sweater? Can she not just wear her own girly, fitting sweater? But the thing is, I don’t have a boyfriend and I don’t particularly want one at the moment. I just want a comfy sweater.

Indulge: In entertainment magazines. True, there are many things I could do that would be a better use of my time, but entertainment magazines are called entertainment magazines because they’re, well, entertaining. However, some people feel superior when they’re idea of downtime is reading the newspaper while another person’s is to catch up with the latest trends or watch TV shows. I’m even self-conscious of editing photos in public! A taste in aesthetics can be quite valuable—you’d be surprised how much of an effect graphic design can have on a project—but it seems that if enjoyed recreationally, its value becomes lost to some people.

Listen: To what I want, and play it loud. There’s nothing worse than hearing that your taste in music is bad, and you can’t help but take it personally, because music speaks to the soul, and what kind of music a person likes can tell you a lot about them. All through elementary school, I had never been exposed to anything but classical music, so when High School Musical came out, the whole door to pop culture opened up for me. I really enjoyed the songs, and not in that “let’s sing High School Musical songs over and over again because they’re fun to act stupid to, and oops, now I kind of like it, but only ironically” sense. I really did. Later I was exposed to more music, and I grew out of High School Musical, but the whole time I enjoyed it I pretended that I didn’t, because everyone else was into Avril Lavigne (I quickly caught onto that bandwagon, but I have since grown out of that one too). My taste in music has greatly evolved, and I love sharing my favorite artists like Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Atlas Genius, but I still hesitate to admit a liking to songs if written by pop artists or boy bands.

Perform: I love singing, and I am blessed with an exceptional classical voice. I’ve auditioned for honor choirs and solos. I’ve performed. But once people started becoming aware of that, I felt the pressure of all these expectations I couldn’t fulfill. If I was flat-out bad at singing, I probably wouldn’t be too worried, because people wouldn’t have expectations so I wouldn’t disappoint. Busking is so out of my comfort zone, but I love it at the same time. What if all the street people want is to walk in peace? I’ve also always been intrigued with acting and trying on different personas. Some people see it as pretending, but I see it as exploring. Wouldn’t it be easier to find out who I am (or am not) if I’m totally and completely something, rather than bits and pieces of what I think other people would want of me? But I can’t exactly walk around being one person one day and then another person the next, can I?

Observe: I’m curious, what can I say? Whenever people ask me what super power I would want if I could have one, I always reply, “Invisibility.” That way I could walk unassumingly through foreign territories (a club perhaps?) and see what it’s like to be in the life of someone without that person thinking that I’m a creeper/stalker and calling the cops. I like seeing things and I’m full of wanderlust, not only for places, but for people as well. Okay, that makes me sound like a vampire wanting to suck the life out of you or something, but you get what I mean. I’m interested in stories. To be able to walk through the streets, approach strangers, talk to them, learn about them, and get a photo or two for keepsakes is something I’ve always admired Humans of New York for.

Interact: I don’t even say “hi” to my friends anymore. I just stare at them from the other end of the hallway, smile, and wave like a lunatic until they notice me and reciprocate. How cool would it be to do that with strangers too? I know that if someone did that to me, I’d feel extremely special to be picked out of the bunch, albeit a bit confused as to why. I want to greet a stranger like we’ve been friends for ages, and maybe we will be. But what if we don’t hit it off? What if to them I’m just that weirdo who can’t find a friend and will be content with any random person?

Practice: Languages. I’m an American born Asian, and I look it too. To not know my ethnic language may be seen as disrespectful or a disgrace. I am neither fluent in Chinese nor Taiwanese, and it becomes even more apparent whenever I try to carry a conversation, but at the same time, if I never use it, how will I improve? Let me tell you this: perfecting language in a classroom is completely different from being able to use it in the real world. I always feel terrible when a local asks me a question on the street or on public transportation, and I truly cannot understand a word they are saying. What’s even worse is that I’ve lived in China for eight years, so to come back unable to communicate in the language, what does that make me?

Ask: Questions and for help. I’ve gone to the same school from fifth grade all the way through twelfth. I’ve grown up with more or less the same people (I say “more or less,” because there are always people coming and going in the international community). I’ve had a great work ethic ever since I was young and always did well in school. People were competitive, but it didn’t bother me, because I was doing fine in the competition. It wasn’t so easy in high school though, but I felt that I had already established myself as someone who knew everything, and if I didn’t, I’d work until I did, and I always did. Now that’s ridiculous, knowing everything, but I couldn’t shake how inferior the present me felt to the past me. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for help, because I didn’t want to believe that I needed it. If I gave into the reality that I needed help, everyone would know. They’d think, “She’s really not as great as I remembered.” But oh would my life had been easier if I faced my problems, and oh would I have been stronger.

Try: Harder. On one hand, it’s a terrible feeling when someone tells you that you’re not trying hard enough, when you’re really giving it all you can, and on the other hand, it’s also a terrible feeling when someone tells you you’re trying too hard, when all you want to do is give it your best. It seems to be a lose-lose situation, so who cares what they say. Try, try, and try again until you know that you’ve done all you can, so that when you look back, you don’t have any regrets. You’ve done the best you can do and you should be proud of what you’ve achieved, however little or much.
Who is this “some people,” “other people,” “they,” “everyone” that I fear being judged by? It’s all in my head. Nobody has time to worry about me. They’re most likely too worried about themselves. It hasn’t been easy for me to admit to many of these things, so at least humor me if you can’t understand it. Some of my concerns are petty and just plain annoying, and I’m aware of that, which is why I keep them inside me. It’s impossible to not judge, whether it be positive or negative. But this is what I’d do differently if I knew nobody would judge me.

It’s easy enough to say that I’m my own person, unable to be swayed, but only once I really believe it will I also come to realize that there really is nothing stopping me but myself, truly. I can make everything happen now, because if not now, then when?

They’re still just words for now, but hopefully someday I’ll believe it.

What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?