Growing up, I always loved learning new things, from new languages to the ins and outs of the neural connections in the human brain. The more I explored, the hungrier I would become to master new skills. It gave me a sense of belonging in this big world. I was taught early on that knowledge was power; knowledge was my way out of an impoverished community, knowledge would take me places that I couldn’t even fathom at the time…Or so I thought.
In my junior year of high school, my African History teacher asked my class to tell her WHO we were. We listed everything from first and last names, to our cultures, to all the other things that we identified with. However, Ms. Davis used this moment to point out that in fact, we did not know ourselves and instead we were lost and our ideas of self awareness were false. Since that moment, I have been obsessed with figuring out who I am. In simply asking the question, “Who are you?"and then telling me that my answers were completely off, while never providing me the answer to the question, Ms. Davis set me on my journey to self-discovery.
When I was four years young, my siblings and I moved to Chicago to live with my aunt and her two daughters. We were all crammed into her little apartment, which wasn’t easy, but we did our best to make it work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was when I began competing for my aunt’s love and attention. This competition slowly turned into an obsession as I grew up. I tried to impress her; I challenged myself to take AP courses throughout my high school career, passing them all. I was the captain of my grade school volleyball team, played several sports in high school, and even danced as a majorette in the marching band, where I received the opportunity to perform at Barack Obama’s 2013 Presidential Inauguration. I even started a history club with my U.S History Teacher, Dr. Staros. As a young adult, I was very passionate about acquiring new skills and mastering them, but in the end- who was I really doing it for?
Are you impressed with my resume yet?
My aunt certainly wasn’t. She never showed up to a game, a showcase, or a competition- I can’t even recall a time when I heard her say “I’m proud of you”. After many missed games and performances, I would find a quiet place and cry. When I looked around, I saw all the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles giving my peers balloons, flowers, but most importantly- love and support. After working tirelessly for a successful show, I still felt like a failure. I wasn’t doing any of this stuff for myself, but rather I was competing for my aunt to love me like I was her own. I failed epically.
By the time I reached my senior year, I was no closer to knowing who I was. In fact, I was more disconnected from myself than ever before. I was emotionally, physically, and mentally drained- I’d totally let myself go. I had no consistent place to live, no money, my grades had dropped tremendously, and I wanted everyday to be my last. I would ask myself, “why me?” and “why don’t things ever work out for me?” It wasn’t until the day I inflicted harm on myself that I finally realized I can’t wait for someone else to “fix” my life or bring me happiness. It was that realization which allowed me to forgive myself and let go of the things that were stunting my personal growth. With this in mind, I was no longer a victim; I gained a valuable lesson from all of my experiences, which made me stronger in anticipation of what was to come.
So, who am I? I am not someone who is defined by anyone else’s actions, but instead I am someone who is defined by the numerous experiences and opportunities that I can create for myself. All of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years through reading books, listening to my teachers, watching and attending TED Talks, and attending symposiums, has helped me grow tremendously. All of this being said, however, I wouldn’t have been open to learning had I still been living for someone else. In 2013, self awareness was the most important thing missing from the equation. Self awareness was the necessary spark before everything that followed. My journey of self discovery has given me the confidence that I needed to courageously face each day and to redesign the world in the image of my own dreams.
Lived and written by Paige Warford
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