Full strength black coffee.
When I was 19 years old, I told my parents that I was dropping out of college for one year — or maybe two, or maybe forever.
I had already filed the paperwork for a leave of absence. The deed was done.
I told them I was moving off-campus into my own apartment — with older people whom they’d never met — and that I had a job, and that I would pay for everything myself. I told them I had been miserable at college. I told them I needed to find my own way in the world — on my schedule, on my own terms.
I was not “calm” as I said these words.
I was fiery, passionate, self-righteous, and angry.
My mom stared at me in disbelief and said, “Are you using cocaine?”
She was serious. She couldn’t believe these words were coming out of my mouth. She’d never heard me speak this way before. I had always been very quiet, people-pleasing and accommodating. Straight A’s. Honor roll. President of the school choir. I never “pushed back” or “rebelled” in the typical teenage ways (cigarettes, ditching class, breaking curfew). It just wasn’t something I did.
And yet there I was, all of sudden, dropping this atom bomb of information on my poor, unsuspecting parents. I’m dropping out. Deal with it.
“Hardcore drugs” had to be the only possible explanation.
To be clear: I was not on drugs. I was just trying — awkwardly and ungracefully, admittedly — to say something true and real, and to take charge of my own life.
To be clear, also: my parents are not — and have never been — “oppressive” people. My parents are amazing people. My parents are my heroes. But in that moment, mom and dad represented a “way of life” that I wasn’t sure I wanted. I was angry at them (a little) but mostly angry at myself for not speaking up sooner and for being so spineless in the past.
“Are you using cocaine?”
“Uh… no, mom. I’m not.”
It was a wild moment. We laugh about it now. But it wasn’t funny at the time.
Sometimes, when the “real” you suddenly erupts onto the scene, it can be very uncomfortable — unsettling, even scary — for people who have gotten used to a quieter, diluted version of you.
It’s like tasting full strength black coffee when you’ve gotten used to a lifetime of sugary Frappuccinos. Quite shocking.
When you start talking, writing, and behaving in a braver way, sometimes, the people who love you will say things like, “I liked the way you used to be” or “What happened to you?” or “You’re different ever since you started [fill in the blank]” or “Are you really sure about this?” or even, “Are you on drugs?”
Take that as a compliment, if you can.
They’re not trying to be cruel. They’re just worried about you. (Can you blame them?). Or confused. (“I thought this was supposed to be a mocha-cookie-crumble Frappuccino, sir?”) But as you evolve, they will adjust. Or they won’t. Either way: trust that you’re moving in the right direction.
If I could travel back in time — back to that moment when I told my parents “I’m dropping out of college” — I would change a few things. I would have prepared them in advance instead of dropping a bomb out of nowhere. I would have been kinder and more respectful to my elders. I wouldn’t have raised my voice in anger. Not before — or after — the cocaine accusation. I would have handled things differently, for sure.
But I’m not sorry for what I chose, because that choice set a series of events into motion that all led me here — and “here” is pretty amazing.
I was fortunate. My personal revolution began at age 19 — and not, say, at age 89 after a lifetime filled with suppressed feelings and regret. Then again, there’s never a “wrong” time to say something true and real, to stop hiding and yielding, to seize the reins of your life and take charge.
It’s never too soon — or too late — to start showing the world who you really are.