You're different. That's a good thing.

Brock Walsh

Now that you’re thinking about applying to college, have you been comparing yourself to others— usually your superstar schoolmates— and coming up short? You can’t escape the suspicion that . . .  you’re different.

That’s a good thing.

Sometimes it may not feel like it. In fact, as you look back at your life since middle school, you’ve been trying your hardest to be more like everyone else. You’ve been judging yourself, comparing yourself, and trying to shape yourself into some ideal image of rightness. Take your clothing, for instance. Back in 2018 you may have coveted a pair of Lebron 11s (to the tune of $295) because some kids in your gym class had them and got a lot of attention strutting around in them. And down at the bottom of your shirt drawer may be a Yeezy Season 5 tee which made quite a statement 6 years ago and quite a different one today. You wanted to wear what the cool kids wore. Comfort in numbers.

The point is, as we grow up there is safety in sameness and what feels like real peril in standing apart.

It isn’t enough to dress the same as your peers, you want to sound like them too. You probably can’t remember the first time you heard someone reply “I can’t even . . . “ but it wasn’t long before everyone was saying it, including you. When someone uses the expression today it sounds as stale as it once did fresh. But we’ve moved on to more boujee phrases which will enjoy the same meteoric rise and fall. And we’ll all be tempted to chime in.

Because there’s really no harm in these tribal rituals. There is an implied trust in imitative behavior. You are communicating your endorsement of the group’s sensibilities and your desire to belong to it. And so long as it’s a fashion statement and not an insurrection, it’s not a big deal.

Except when it is.

Applying to college depends on differentiating yourself from other applicants. All things being equal, why should a college accept you and not the neighbor kid? Your transcript will matter, yes, as will your teacher recommendations and extra-curriculars.  But even after these quantitative measurements have been applied, you’ve only succeeded in standing out along with a few thousand other worthy applicants, 3 to 4 times as many as there are beds.

And guess what? Unless you’ve done the hard work of creating yourself in some unique form, one that you can demonstrate and bring the receipts, you’re in a tenuous position.

So how does a person develop a “unique self” that will benefit them getting into college? The best way to make yourself an interesting candidate for admission is to live an interesting life. Annoying, right? Here you are, having kept your head down and shoulder to the wheel, doing everything you’ve been asked to do for a decade plus and suddenly that’s not good enough? I am not saying that. You can be proud of your accomplishments. Had you not been as successful as you have, none of what follows would matter.

What I’d like to do (and if I could wave a wand and make it happen I would) is give you permission to be yourself. Weird parts and all. Interests that you share with no one. Unpopular movies that you ridicule in public and sob through alone. Pop songs that you’d never admit you actually love because everyone is so street and serious. Things you love that others wouldn’t understand.

Nurture your strangeness. Seriously. Let people laugh at your odd tastes and funky shoes. Learn to laugh along with them. Because humans are strange. That’s what makes them interesting. It’s a matter of balance, of course. But learning what part of our inhibitions comes from fear (which holds us back) and what is keeping us out of trouble (which keeps us out of jail) is a necessary step in our growing up. What’s important is to allow yourself to indulge your peculiar interests and allow them to flourish into a skill. So when you’re asked what makes you different, you’ll have no trouble locating your answer.

Very soon, what is unique about you is what will matter most. And really, it isn’t so hard to do. All it takes is caring a little less what others think of you. Which ironically makes people think more of you.