1994, 20 years ago - Don't let that smile fool you. I was terrified. Uncertain of looming adulthood. Unsure of the direction I was going, into the complete unknown, out of the nest, shoved into thin air, where the options were either flight or gravity. I felt small, invisible, inadequate. I was the girl no one really saw. I lacked any degree of confidence, was uncomfortable in my own skin, and had no clue who I wanted to be.
1999, 15 years ago - Don't let that smile fool you. I was faking confidence. Even though I was gainfully employed, I felt like a fraud, like there was no way I was an adult. I slapped on that smile like it was part of my uniform. I learned to look sure of myself while I quaked inside. I was hesitant, but I never wanted it to show. I drew the conclusion that adulthood was an act in making everyone else believe you had confidence and some kind of clue, but I had no more definition than I did at seventeen.
2004, 10 years ago - Don't let that smile fool you. I could snap it onto my face just like Mr Potato Head over there. Adulthood was proving to be as terrifying as my worst nightmares when I wore that graduation cap a decade earlier. My skin was thin and my confidence was thinner. A decade had given me no more direction, just some baggage stuffed full of realized fears and underdeveloped confidence...and not much leading me to believe that this wasn't what life was just going to be like. Plaster on that smile and pretend it's all under control. Inner peace was, as far as I knew, a scam.
2009, 5 years ago - Don't let that small smile fool you. For the first time in my life, I thought I was maybe in on the secret. Pieces were clicking into place. I was more tentative than uncertain. I was more curious than afraid. I'd hit my thirties and suddenly, it was occurring to me that maybe, just maybe, I was someone worth knowing, no pretense, no act.
2014, present - That smile is the real deal. I feel no more need to justify the things I enjoy, pretend to be someone I'm not, or impress people who think I should be someone or something different. I've traded a thin skin and a shaky interior for a soft heart and a quiet confidence. Not everyone will love me, but not everyone needs to; I'm seen by the people who matter and who love me *because* I'm me. I know who I am, what I like, and how to use my own voice. When I'm shaken, I rebalance quickly. I'm comfortable moving in my own space, at my own pace. I've learned to look in the mirror and work hard to be a person I can look in the eye: genuine, pleasant, silly, cheerful, strong, grateful. A girl at peace is a beautiful thing.
Oh, what a difference the passage of time makes. If I could just reassure that poor girl in 1994 that it would all be ok, that she'd grow into herself, and look at life as an adventure, and hold her head high as she laughed from the tips of her toes to the top of her head...