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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Orange juice, accents and life lessons


Column by Ritika Agarwal

Ritika - JaeEun Oh

I’ve been a people-pleaser my entire life. Not in a healthy, everyone-loves-me-for-my-charming-personality kind of way. It’s more like a paranoid, I’ll-cry-if-I-think-people-are-making-fun-of-me type thing. When I was eight, I was so desperate to please my teacher who had explicitly told us not to go to the toilet unless it was an emergency that I peed myself. Right at my table in the middle of the classroom. I told all my tablemates that the puddle of yellow liquid on the floor underneath my chair was orange juice—and they believed it—until it was inevitably found out that my pants were soaking wet and smelled like nobody’s business. I must however give my eight-year-old self props for maintaining the orange juice position even as she was shamefully led away from the classroom to change her pants; she couldn’t, of course, risk her reputation at any cost.
At age ten my parents made me move from my home in the hills of Sheffield back to their hometown, Kolkata (in India). I, being the people-pleasing, attention-seeking ten-year-old that I was, immediately set to work pleasing people and seeking attention. But there was one problem: my broad Yorkshire accent. I absolutely did not fit in with my new classmates. There was a little teasing, as is usual for a group of fifth grade girls cooped up in a classroom for long periods of time but I let it get to my head. Every time I spoke, I could hear my aspirated “t”s and “p”s; my diphthong vowel sounds as opposed to my classmates’ monophthongs (linguistics enthusiast here, sorry). It got to the point where I couldn’t talk in public without severe anxiety attacks. I began to feel like I was inherently less capable than people around me and this triggered a whole host of other issues which I still struggle with today.
Nine years later I found out that nobody even knew my accent had been an issue for me in school. Turns out, I’d made the whole thing up in my head and let it affect how I saw myself for the better part of a decade.
Here’s a secret everyone knows but doesn’t really know: people are unimaginably selfish. Most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to give the things you’re most conscious about a second thought. All that worrying you did about that pimple next to your nose… Guess what? No one could even see it. That dress that made your hips look big?
It didn’t. You didn’t make a fool of yourself that one time you tried Speech & Debate. No one remembers the time your voice cracked while singing the solo at your sixth grade production of “Guys and Dolls.”
As cliché as this sounds, your experiences will be what you make of them. You can choose to dwell over apparently mortifying events and build them up in your head till it seems like you can’t possibly get over them—or you can choose to get over them. No one cares as much as you do and holding yourself back for fear of judgement is possibly the worst thing you can do. Caring what other people think of you is a human instinct that dates back to when we lived in tribes and conforming to societal norms was necessary for survival. Times have changed. We live in an individualistic society where being your own person is respected, not looked down upon.
My people-pleasing, scared of judgment voices still yell at me from time to time, but I do my best to tell them to shut the hell up and go home. I have no use for them. They’ve done nothing but make me feel inadequate and afraid.
So, reader, live on your own terms because it really isn’t worth living any other way. Truly. And next time you pee yourself out of some ridiculous need to please someone, just accept that you peed yourself. No one will believe that it’s orange juice.

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    Smita AgarwalSep 12, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Lovely article! Very insightful!