When I was a kid, there were two things I wanted to be in life. In descending order of importance and ascending order of practicality they were a witch and a spy. Actually, they are both of equal importance and equal impracticality. But nonetheless, I clearly had some maladjusted freak fantasies—something my excessively encouraging elementary school teachers would too kindly call an “overactive imagination.”
This overactive imagination lasted well into my teens when I was still collecting spy toys from Happy Meals. And 10 years after I first eagerly awaited my acceptance letter to Hogwarts, I still boast the same impressive compendium of Harry Potter paraphernalia. Not a lot has changed since childhood—not my bangs, not my habit of un-ironically wearing overalls in public and certainly not my overwhelming desire to be special.
That’s how I irrationally rationalize my aspirations toward wizardry and espionage—a unique yet entirely normal desire to be special. I say normal because it is, in fact, perfectly ordinary to want to be different. As much as the cynics and hipsters of this world gag over conformity and the flock of mindless seagulls pop culture is morphing us into, no amount of top-40 music or mass-produced clothing can rob us of our singular objective to be more than average. For me, this manifests itself in the inexplicable enthrallment of magic wands and multipurpose pocket gadgets.
It’s weird. Maybe it’s something those excessively encouraging elementary school teachers would spin as “especially special.” I know that not everybody tried to fly a broom once. Not everyone spent his/her allowance on magic kits and listening devices. Not everyone had preadolescent, carnal urges for Austin Powers.… Okay NOBODY had preadolescent, carnal urges for Austin Powers. I will shamefully claim that quirk as my own and expect no companions to step forward out of camaraderie. When Mike Myers introduced his plaque-toothed, velvet-adorned 60s sex god, I highly doubt he expected an adoring fan base of hormonal 8-year-olds. But unfortunately for him (and at the risk of printing child porn), I initially encountered the International Man of Mystery around the time I discovered that hot tub jets were super duper. And Austin Powers—The Spy Who (in some ways indeed) Shagged Me—was unfathomably my first foray into erotically arousing materials.
So wow, I just admitted something splendidly embarrassing about myself. You probably think the previous paragraph had no inherent meaning or purpose apart from aligning with my predominant themes of sexual humiliation. And if that’s the case, then I applaud you for you perceptive insight and literary analysis of my transparent Socialite babble. However, I’ll still try to extract value from this divulgence of adolescent awkwardness.
I’m going to venture to guess that you, too, had some pretty wacky inclinations in your formative years. Maybe they weren’t as ambitious as spell casting. Maybe they were a little more platonic than fantasies about bespectacled Brits. But they were just as important to you and just as unique.
Imagination accompanies youth. And then at some point, while we’re growing body hair and/or boobs, imagination gets squashed by less creative conventions. First, it gets overshadowed by coolness—the quintessential characteristic of social survival. Then, as we “mature”, imagination is further depreciated by something more threatening and ravenous: pragmatism. In an effort to be grown up and stable, we unfathomably lean toward something easily attainable and altogether average, something our imaginative childhood selves wouldn’t agree with at all. Whether you wanted to be a witch or a spy or a firefighter or a movie star, you probably wanted to be something more interesting than what you’re becoming.
Right now, you’re not all that special (unless you play for the Duke Quidditch team—then YOU’RE AMAZING). No, you’re not special, but you used to be. You’re not special, but you want to be. You’re not special, but you still can be.
Take a moment and reflect on the things you once pretended were true. Remembering the bizarre things that used to make you happy is a lot more fun than bragging about the things that make you successful. The latter brings accolades and the former brings achievement. Achievement is something that has gotten as warped as imagination. The denotation of achievement is something resume-worthy. But the connotation of achievement is something that satisfies you and affirms your reasoning for accomplishing something. So focus on the positive implications of your actions rather than the glory it brings. Then you’ll be special.
I’m going to leave you with an indie song suggestion… because I’m a wizarding wannabe who moonlights as a manic pixie prototype. Put on “17” by Youth Lagoon, frolic through your childhood memories and embrace your overactive imagination.
Lindsay Tomson, Trinity ’12, is currently applying her Duke-developed skills of sarcasm and awkwardness in the real world. Her installation of the weekly Socialites column runs on alternate Wednesdays. You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @elle4tee.