Loaded question, right?
I was asked this in a game I was playing with some acquaintances from college during my freshman year. Other people around the room were scrounging for a single quality they could name—say, a casual fondness for reading or Guitar Hero. Meanwhile, I was being faced with a dilemma of my very own: what can I say that will sound impressively nerdy without revealing too much and legitimately scaring these people?
My first memories of having a traditionally nerdy hobby come from third grade. This was the year I discovered Pokémon. There was only one generation’s worth of Pokémon, I could play it on my brand new GameBoy Color, and my friends and I made up our own card game because the original was just too complicated. It was perfect. This was a major part of my life at eight years old, but I had no idea what my future had in store. In late spring of 1999, I took (what I later discovered was) an IQ test and secured a place in my school district’s Gifted and Talented Education program for the following three years of my life.
I admit that team nerdiness in this manner is slightly unconventional, but it is essential to take note of this growing period in my life. We GATE students were a breed of our own, though blissfully unaware of it. We took Spanish lessons, organized recitals, and learned to juggle during physical education. We created a fully-functioning town within the walls of our classroom, complete with a governing body, a unique currency, and a local news team. This was my “normal” life for three years and I loved it.
In junior high, I discovered that my entire class had been extremely uncool the entire time. The other classes thought us too weird to play on their kickball teams and sit at their lunch tables. It didn’t particularly bother me then, nor does it now— I spent three years of my life being exactly who I was without fear of judgment and that is far more than I can say for the eight or so that have since followed.
When did I start worrying about what other people think of me? More importantly, why have I allowed myself to be judged for being enthusiastic about the things I enjoy?
After some extremely awkward tween years, I began to acquire a few of the more notable characteristics of Hollywood’s typical young girl. High school brought with it three years on a mediocre-at-best cheerleading squad and college life led me straight into a sorority house. I understand that these events are results of entirely autonomous decisions and I cannot discount how influential my membership in these groups has been. However, I often feel that my entire perceived existence has been boiled down to one of these two characteristics and people are surprised when I do not fit the mold they made for me. I tend to be referred to as a bit of an outlier in these groups; I have been the smart one, the calm one, the sensible one. My squad and my sorority, albeit the most visible parts of my young life, represent a disproportionally small part of who I am.
Maybe it’s because I am so fiercely protective of my books and therefore do not allow them to leave my parents’ house without being under constant supervision, but I can reasonably say that 95% of my sorority sisters have no idea I even know who Harry Potter is. Other things, spanning from my mild obsession with the Vlogbrothers to my severe obsession with Freecell and USA Today crossword puzzles, are highly unlikely habits of the movie-typical sorority girl.
My Facebook page’s photographic record of college life thus far has me attending a two years’ worth of social gatherings with dozens, if not hundreds of my peers. My sorority sisters and I know exactly how to take a great group photo during the busiest of parties. I seem to have found myself in what I can only describe as… the popular crowd. That’s a great place to be, is it not? That’s where I should want to be, isn’t it? Either because of my membership in this supposedly elite crowd or in spite of it (I have yet to decide), I find myself stifling who I truly am. I am a girl who can play Dance Dance Revolution on Expert level. I am a girl who speaks of Hogwarts as though she actually spent seven years studying and sleeping in Ravenclaw Tower. The truth is that I would not be wholly myself without both of these contrasting sets of qualities. I am sorority girl and nerd, cheerleader and academic.
That’s the problem. I will only be happily and wholly myself when both of these sides are given the opportunity to manifest themselves simultaneously, which is what I have been struggling with for years now. I realized recently that I have fallen into being two “Katherine’s” over the course of the year: I study, party, and study more for the nine months while I am in school and I spend my summers being the biggest nerd I can manage and hanging out with a few close friends. I must soon face the fact that this Jekyll and Hyde lifestyle is not a sustainable one. In my upcoming second half of college, I hope to find a way to introduce my school friend to my summer self, thus beginning to meld these two Katherines into a single, much more content, Katherine. I doubt this will be simple or easy, but I have to try. Because this double life is threatening to tear me in two.
A few days ago, my mother told me that I apparently despised being called “one of the GATE kids” during elementary school. My hatred of being referred to merely as piece of a larger entity seems to have begun earlier than I thought. Since then, I’ve been many things; most commonly, I am “so-and-so’s sister,” “the cheerleader,” and “the Alpha Phi.” In addition to my more generic life goals of love, happiness, and financial success, I would like to one day simply be “Katherine.” I’ll even take “Katherine, the girl with the glasses” or “Katherine, the geeky one who uses big words in ordinary conversation.” Yeah, that would be nice.
I really wish I had a more inspiring way to end this, but my life undoubtedly remains a great work in progress. I don’t know how the story ends or if the girl ever learns how to be herself, but maybe, hopefully, someday I will. Maybe I’ll finally be able to be as nerdy and uncool as I want in spite of those unwritten handbooks on life telling me how wrong that would be.
I have a feeling we’re all a little more backwards than we let on.