By Allison Stein
“Whose life am I living?” The words emanating from my conscience felt like barbs piercing my skin. I was tired of being someone who had to ask. Too often, the question infiltrated my dreams, bled into my veins—because I knew, somewhere in the core of my soul, that I was ashamed of the honest answer. The labels I championed in front of my peers were suffocating, paralyzing: I wanted to be more. As regret washed over me, I vowed to hold myself accountable to live in a way that reflected the spirit within. In the words of Margaret Chase Smith, “The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for what is right, when it is unpopular, is a true test of moral character.” Once I refused to be a compromise, I heard a voice emerge from the silent abyss inside me: Learning to claim my own heart set my soul free.
The heaviest regrets we carry are those desperate moments when we break promises to ourselves. We submerge each other in the palpitation of a pressure, an energy. Popular choices tower over us like all-encompassing whitecaps: Fighting back means drowning. We fantasize about fabricating our hearts until we are deemed normal when our real dreams take wildly different directions. Unspoken laws bombard our minds: How can we break through walls we cannot even see? With building insecurities and mounting fears about the future, we want validation, but too often, conformity is a prerequisite to acceptance. Unfortunately, approval demands more than filtering our souls; it means hiding our potential, sacrificing possibilities, and silencing hope. One step outside the boundary lines makes us inferior. By violating our intrinsic covenants to align with others’ ideals, we are concealing our own principles, depriving ourselves of the gratification of creating lives we believe in.
We must ask ourselves what legacy we want to leave. Would we rather be remembered as passive observers who complied with the labels or as those who broke through barriers, rewrote stereotypes, and defied the gravity weighing us down? We are worth too much to settle for passive roles. We each have conviction and drive: We each have a piece of ourselves to offer to the world. Surrendering the freedom to express the music in our spirits is a mistake; not only will we waste the seconds we spend forging new souls, but blind submission to trends is no escape from judgment. In fact, accepting only what is considered acceptable forces us to scrutinize our own flaws tenfold: We cannot be proud of our voiceless silhouettes when they fulfill just a fraction of the difference we know we can make. If only we share with each other a more genuine glimpse of our integrity, we can take action to leave a more empowering impact.
Ultimately, I have claimed my own heart. I no longer cater to what the rest of the world views as my more perfect self; rather, I follow the ideals crystallized in my conscience. Yes, this means exterior judgment, but it also means liberation from within. No matter how others see my most vulnerable self, I am proud of the person I have become—and as I fall asleep each night, the only opinion still reverberating is my own. Stereotypes cannot penetrate my skin: It is the soul under the labels I have to live with.