When I was in fifth grade, I dressed up as Abraham Lincoln.
It was a wintery Sunday in 2009, and I had just returned from a trip to Springfield, Illinois, where my family and I had visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. We had made the trip because my uncle, who was a very talented artist, had the opportunity to display some of his paintings at the Museum.
After lingering in the wax sculpture exhibits, I, bored because the adults were talking, decided to make my way into the gift shop. Alone, I searched through a sea of Lincoln memorabilia, eventually spotting a fake beard, which sparked a magnificent idea in my ten-year-old brain.
Maybe it was because I felt inspired by his life, maybe it was because I wanted to be “different.” Whatever the case, I ran back to my family and told them I wanted to recreate the entire Abraham Lincoln ensemble and wear it to school.
This was important, I explained, because not only were we learning about the presidents in class, but the next day was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The stars aligned perfectly, and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
Thankfully, it didn’t take much convincing. My family had always been supportive of my rather strange ideas, so we purchased the beard along with a top hat and went home, later piecing together a full black, two-piece suit.
The next day I walked, beaming, into my fifth-grade classroom, swallowed by the oversized suit and top hat, complete with the elastic beard sitting comfortably underneath my chin. My peers were shocked. My teachers giggled and humored me by asking what the occasion was for such a get-up, and I proudly explained that today was Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday.
I spent the entire day in that outfit, politely explaining to anyone who asked just exactly why I was dressed that way. I remember feeling proud and completely unphased by the snarky and judgmental comments from fellow ten-year-old girls who could never imagine trading their lip smackers for a beard or their scrunchies for a top hat. It made sense to me, and that’s all that mattered.
Sometimes I wish twenty-four-year-old me exuded this same confidence. It’s strange how somewhere along the way our individuality is beaten out of us, and we are punished for sticking out of the crowd. Not only that, but the punishment seems to get worse the older we get. I am the same nonconformist as I always have been, but these days I am much more careful about who I reveal it to.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it is a fight to pave your own individual path and resist others’ paths being forced upon you. If you stand in your individuality, you suffer the consequences. And although it might be convenient to position myself as the victim, the truth is, we are all victims AND perpetrators. I can guarantee both you and I have been in situations where we were ostracized for being different and where we participated in the ostracizing.
I don’t know why this is in our nature, but I do know that it requires a forceful reframing to both stop judging others and to stop allowing the concern for other people’s opinions to hold us back from expressing ourselves, creating new things, and living our lives against the grain.
So I encourage you, as boring adults, to welcome your eccentricity and allow it to shine. And when you see a happy ten-year-old girl walking around in a Lincoln costume, let her individuality shine too.
Alannah Ferris is a creative, quiet rebel, freelance writer, and blogger currently residing on the East Coast. By day, she does copywriting for startups and business owners, by night she writes, rewrites, edits, and deletes stories in effort to bring people a message that actually matters. You can follow her on Instagram at @alannahmferris or visit her website at www.alannahferris.com