Unlikely inspiration

A lesson from 5-year-old me

Anika Bhandarkar

Five-year-old me was loud. Despite standing not-so-tall at three feet and five inches, I took up a lot of space — I did whatever I wanted to do, utterly ignorant of other people’s judgment. My view of the world at the time

As a child, I was loud and extroverted, and wasn’t affected by others’ perceptions of me. (Anika Bhandarkar)

was shaped by countless episodes of My Little Pony and Disney Movies that portrayed fearless heroines who saved the world and arbitrarily burst into song without a care in the world. And this was exactly why I thought it perfectly acceptable to sing Lady Gaga’s Poker Face at the top of my lungs in the middle of a Trader Joes. Multiple times. 

My mom and I fondly recall memories of my childhood, marked by my unabashedness. But today, the 5-year-old girl with hair that went past her waist seems like just that — a memory. Anyone I know would say I am a completely different person now. I am not someone who would wear a fancy dress to school — I’d be complaining the whole time. I am much more introverted now and prefer to dress in darker colors in contrast to the neon pinks and blues I frequently donned as a child.

5-year-old me often donned tutus and neon pink clothing, a stark contrast to how I dress now. (Anika Bhandarkar)

I am no longer oblivious to other people’s judgment. I notice the looks exchanged between my classmates when someone has a loud outburst in class, or when someone who I know to be introverted struggles with a presentation. And with that awareness, I have become much more aware of myself and my actions — I feel pressure to be simultaneously quieter and louder, as if I am being tugged in two directions at once. One part of me wants to be louder, to speak up in class more and not be a coward, because maybe then I’d seem more confident and less socially awkward. The other, more introverted part of me tells me to quiet down, to not gasp so loudly in the middle of a movie, and to refrain from having the occasional loud outburst in fear of my peers’ judgment. It is this introverted side that makes me wonder how I could have ever sung in the middle of a grocery store or worn a dress to school. It makes me cringe when I remember how I talked to everybody, made friends with everybody — I can barely imagine trying to do that today. 

Admittedly, I am jealous of my past self. I can’t even find the courage to sing a melody in front of my piano teacher, let alone strangers. I envy my past ability to flaunt nothing less than my authentic self. 

Sometimes, I wonder if I had tried harder, I could still be an extrovert today — still sing at random and embrace unconventional fashion, free from the burden of social awkwardness. Extroverts, to me, always seem powerful and authentic — self-assured, assertive and completely unaffected by other people’s perceptions of them. Ever since I realized I wasn’t one anymore, I begun to feel alienated from 5-year-old me. It seemed that the vibrant personality I once sported stemmed from my extrovertism, and I found myself wishing to become one again in the hopes that I could regain some of my past self-confidence.

However, I have come to realize that I don’t need to be extroverted to be authentically me. I can be an introvert, but I can also be loud at random, wear a complicated eyeliner look at track meets and be extra just because I feel like it. While I might not ever sing at the top of my lungs in Trader Joe’s again, I may just start putting myself out there a little bit more, and perhaps 5-year-old me and I will meet halfway.