Burbank High School in the 10th grade, I walked up to my teacher with the Scantron filled out. It’d only been 10 minutes of the Algebra 2 Final Exam, and she wrinkled her brow.
“Excuse me? You’re already done?!”
“Yes, I decided to use this time to study for my English Final. I did the math, and even if I got 100% on this final, I’m still going to fail this semester of your class.”
“Wow. Okay.” She shook her head in disbelief and looked down at my paper filled in nicely, but randomly: A, D, C, B, B…and so on. Needless to say, I had not “shown my work” on the attached papers. But she couldn’t argue with my logic.
"Kristie, you could've gotten an "A" in my class. I'm so disappointed..."
She had to get the last word. I didn't like her much, so her disappointment only stung like a mosquito on a summer day by the pool. I had chosen my fun, and I was at peace.
You see, my seat was in the back next to the window that looked out over the street. Next to me in the adjacent desks were three boys that I was far more entertained by than learning what in the world a “parabola” had to do with anything. If the boys weren’t cute or funny---or (*gasp*) absent, I'd stare out the window looking at the trees and the Kmart sign across the street. I knew I should care, but it was too late. I had a crush on three hunky boys, and now Algebra sounded like someone was speaking Japanese to me. I was not bilingual.
Next stop was my school counselor to figure out what to do with the 3rd period in my schedule. I’d re-take Algebra 2 next year but needed a filler. Typing, perhaps? Underwater basketweaving? Not a thing.
"You know, we need a T.A. in this office. You could do that?" she offered.
"Sure. Let's do it." It sounded easy, and I liked the counselors.
I learned quickly that my new 3rd-period job was simple: I was a professional hall pass deliverer. I was tasked to deliver small pink and yellow slips of paper with the names of students who needed to come to the office. (I'm explaining this for the youngins because I'm sure now they just text your Apple Watch or something) I walked with these papers to all the ends of the earth—or the school campus-- which was expansive, or at least very poorly laid out.
So here’s the whole point of what I’m telling you:
I think being the Counseling Office T.A. was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
At first, I was so nervous to walk into the classrooms with call slips. I was anxious about walking through the hallway visible to classes of seniors who would look at me as I walked the empty halls. The popular girls, the mean kids, the football team; I was terrified of their opinion of me. My greatest fear: that I’d be judged, mocked, and dismissed.
But it didn’t matter how scared I was. This was my new job and I was not going to get an “F” in Counseling Office T.A. work. I’d had my first “F,” and I was hoping to make it my last.
So I faked it. I walked with confidence. I made eye contact with the teacher. I averted my eyes from the classroom of students.
A few weeks later, I started to smile and scan the room of the students that I felt the most intimidated to approach. With butterflies filling my stomach clear up to my throat, I walked into the Auto Shop and handed the hall passes to that teacher. In front of all the boys. I survived. They even flirted with me a little. Phew.
I got to see the entire school, and I had to face my fear every single day.
I learned that what I feared the most, was imaginary. And if it was real? If rejection was ever real, it was marginal.
Every once in a while I'll walk into a room of strangers and feel the butterflies, the fears, the awkward-Kristie-ness rise up. And then I stand tall, I smile, and I remember that I'm okay.
And one thing I know to be true: everyone else is generally thinking about whether you like them or not. We hold such great power in our eye contact, our smile, and our seeing of one another. Don't be afraid. It's probably imaginary.
You're uniquely wonderful just the way you are.