From 8 am to 3 pm, I liked Kpop and Beyblades. From 5 pm to 6 pm, I liked trap music and biking. On Catholic holidays, I liked Haitian food. On American holidays, I liked Jamaican food. Being a part of so many vastly different groups led to me not feeling fully invested in any of them. I yearned so badly to be included that I hyper-focused on understanding everyone’s identity but my own.
For years, I was enslaved by my desire to please everyone and fit in everywhere. Liberation came in an unlikely form: team-based online video games. After waiting to play in an online queue for several minutes, I would be placed with a random group of people ready to put their virtual lives on the line to win. Naturally, I would prepare myself to shuffle through my list of personalities to best fit in. Though in reality, working with them, I never had to pretend to like certain cultures or lie about liking certain music genres to get along. We had a common goal in mind, and the only way to reach it was with one another. We were the closest of friends for the next thirty minutes.
Everything I’ve become; my strongest relationships, my most vivid adventures, the best activities that I’ve been privileged enough to participate in, and even my favorite pictures of myself are a direct product of my newfound comfort in my own skin.
The effectiveness of my communication skills was directly proportional to my ability to mesh with my team, and to communicate better increased our odds of winning. I never had to code-switch when relaying information to my team. I spoke the same way to everyone I met online, often with a clarity that I could only hope to muster against my myriad of problematic social groups. For the longest time, I would go day in and day out with my after-hours routine. Eventually, I realized that I was adopting an alternate mentality. When I was talking to people through video games, I didn’t magically become another person, I just subconsciously decided that if my personality was going to be anyone’s problem, it certainly would not be my own.
After having that realization, I committed myself to embodying the mentality I had misunderstood for so long. I refused to let myself regress back into a state where I was scared of other people’s opinions of me. I started coming to school playing Playboi Carti on my Bluetooth speaker because I enjoyed it, and I didn’t care if it meant fewer people would want to sit with me at lunch. I ate Haitian patties on Thanksgiving and Jamaican patties on Christmas because I loved both of them equally. I started doing what I liked because it gave me joy.
Thankfully, the repercussions were not as bad as the ones my 14-year-old mind had imagined. I was dumbfounded that my friends and family liked me just for me, not because I liked what they liked. People appreciated my presence because I had something new to offer to a conversation. Everything I’ve become; my strongest relationships, my most vivid adventures, the best activities that I’ve been privileged enough to participate in, and even my favorite pictures of myself are a direct product of my newfound comfort in my own skin. Although there can be fun in learning the intricate lore, plot lines, and skills associated with video games, the thing they have allowed me to understand the most is myself.
Stephan is now a freshman at the University at Buffalo.
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