When I was a teen, I lived and died by the advice rendered in Seventeen magazine. Far more than a mere fashion mag or teen idol rag, Seventeen dispensed advice regarding skincare ("de-fuzzing"), friendships, school, college AND boys. Its weightiest and most oft-repeated maxim:
Easy enough if you KNOW who you are, but at 13, 14, 15, and right on up through her 20's, who knows with any certainty who they are? Who I was depended very much upon my audience and I can't think I'm the only girl who felt that way. I had friends across the spectrum from nerds to cheerleaders to jocks to bad girls. I was a little bit of each of those (except cheerleader). How could I be myself if I didn't know who I really was? When I was a little bit of everything?
Seventeen had a solution to my identity angst: quizzes. I took them all.
"What your favorite color says about you."
"What your favorite music says about you."
"Your favorite fashion trend demystified."
"Find your perfect college."
And so on.
I read my horoscope religiously and consulted the Ouija board whenever I could find a partner who wasn't freaked out by it. I read tarot cards for myself and anyone else who was interested. I analyzed handwriting and read palms. Phrenology was about the only sort of divination I didn't dabble in. I was determined to find the answers. I wanted certainty.
Now I know that certainty is just an illusion, but then it was the mirage in the desert that I kept desperately seeking, by any available means.
Those interest and aptitude surveys the guidance office had you take? I typically scored high in every category except clerical. Didn't help me much.
I did not grow out of this phase when I left my teens behind, says the woman who changed her major every single semester until her senior year in college. I did not have trouble settling on a major because I couldn't find a fit, mind you, but because I loved (almost) every class I took. Everything was interesting to me.
From the quizzes in Seventeen, I graduated to Cosmo, with its "adult" quizzes and annual Bedside Astrologer. I remember snapping up that January issue as soon as it hit the stands and settling in with my girlfriends and a supply of beer and wine coolers for an evening of gut-splitting laughter. References to its lurid descriptions would arise (pun fully intended) frequently afterward. I always hung onto it to assess every would-be beau all year long. My friends appreciated the service I provided by vetting potential suitors in bars. I brazenly asked the zodiac sign of every man we met and then referenced his Cosmo "performance index," which I had committed to memory.
I still love a good quiz, although I struggle to reconcile them all.
How can I be the same Myers-Briggs (ENTJ) as Lady Mary Crowley, yet be Rizzo in Grease? Dido the suicidal Queen of Carthage and Elrond the King of the Elves? Baffling, I tell you.
What struck me on my most recent birthday, besides the tsunami of love from friends and family, was how I feel so comfortable in my skin and with who I am, right now. I'm not worried about tomorrow, because I assume, based upon a lifetime of experience, that I'll chase new interests and change my hair at least 100 times in the next 50 years.
I'm comfortable just being myself, without apology or explanation. In fact, I think getting older is a lot like a chef's reduction. You become more intensely yourself with each passing year, as the extraneous and non-essential habits and traits evaporate, concentrating your essence.
If I had known this when I was 14, maybe I would have worried less about having the answer. I don't know that I'd have believed it, though. Age truly has its benefits.