My story is relatable to any person who has ever had a typical childhood.
Being a teen, we all ask the exact same questions,
Do I belong?
Am I worthy?
Am I loved?
Those questions still parade around in my mind, and I ponder if I’ll ever “make it” in this difficult, uncertain world.
A word that describes me is “different.” Different is a loaded word. Different can be defined as a good thing as well as a bad thing. Different is the one thing that doesn’t belong in the group. Peer pressure in school encourages teens to stay the same, like a song in High School Musical says, “Stick to the status quo.”
I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. I was always the independent kid with the wild imagination. Before I started school, my mom used to call me her “little monkey” because I had no sense of fear, and I climbed to the highest point in every situation without fear of the fall. As I got older, the lies of classmates, the lies of social media, and even the lies of some of my family members discouraged me from having that spunk, that “no fear” attitude like I had when I was my mom’s “little monkey.” Even though life brings many challenges, I want to share that there is hope.
Early School Experience
In preschool I vividly remember a fellow preschooler tell me I looked ugly in buttons. To this day, I don’t like to wear buttons. That sounds really weird, but the trauma from hearing the negativity stuck with me. That was over 13 years ago and I still remember it today. I know I am not ugly. Nobody is ugly. Anyone who tells you that you are ugly is lying. But I believed the lie. And it hurt.
Grade School Experience
The insecurity continued in grade school. I longed to be more like my peers.
When I was in third grade, I switched schools in the middle of the year. There was one mean, popular girl who in my mind, her sole purpose in life was to ensure that I felt belittled, worthless, and not good enough. I had no friends in my class. I felt like I was unworthy to have a friend just because I was me. I was different. I had curly hair. I was taller than everyone else. In my mind, I felt ugly. I felt unlovable. I did not have the courage until the last day of school to tell my teacher what was happening, and in the end, she couldn’t do anything about it.
I needed that voice of truth, that voice of encouragement to give me the strength to stand up for myself, to have the voice to tell my teacher.
I moved schools, again, to avoid the girl who made my life miserable, and again, I was the new kid. I still struggled with the thought that I didn’t belong. In fourth grade, I found music to be my solace. It was one of the places where I could be myself without the fear of others judging me. Music was my refuge. My love for music made me different. While other girls were playing soccer or dancing, I felt like an outcast because I didn’t really have anyone else who liked my style of singing. There may have been other singers, but it was hard to connect with other musicians because I never could relate to their classical style of singing.
The summer of sixth grade, when Instagram just came out and became popular, I started using more social media. As a twelve year old who wanted to fit in, I did the same as all my other classmates. I was always comparing myself to others. I felt insecure that I only got 7 likes on a post while the “popular” girls got 50 likes. I would spend hours looking at the kids in my class take pictures together and I just didn’t feel included at all. I wanted to be a part of the “in crowd.” I wanted to be tagged in the photo. There was once an anonymous “Honest Truth” page on Instagram, and of course I wanted the mysterious person to tell me what he/she thought of me. Being so young and naive, words cut deep. The author of the account said,
“Ur really quiet and if u didnt say anything u would b invisible but ur an okay singer
and ur not that pretty and thats the for real truth.”
I read the Instagram post while my family and I were on a trip in the car; I cried for an hour. Those few words pointed out my deepest insecurities. Again, I believed the lies. They hurt. Since pre-school I had felt that I wasn’t beautiful. I couldn’t take those insults. All of my past hurts welled up and I reached a breaking point. I thought those words were my reality. I thought to myself,
“Do I have a good voice?,” “Am I pretty?” I felt terrible about myself. I let the words of one other person, sink way down into my heart, as though everyone else felt the same way. I even found myself thinking,
“If I weren’t here, would I even be missed?” and “Maybe others’ lives
would be better without me.”
Thank goodness people were there to stand up for me. My brother, mom and dad consoled me. Also, a student in my class replied to the post,
“That’s horrible! Jessica is super nice and she is pretty!
What did she ever do to you?”
My family and classmate’s affirming words made all of the difference! They ignited in me a spark of hope! They made me realize that the words that person said were untrue. Today, there’s even more social media than there was back then, and I can’t even imagine what teens are going through.
Secondary School Experience
Once I started 7th grade, I really started to take my music more seriously and I turned my attention to learning to play the guitar and keys to accompany myself while singing.
Around that time, I began to compete in music competitions. Leaders in the entertainment industry encouraged me to write music. I took that advice and I ran with it. “Brand New” is the first song I wrote. I was 12. I know I have written much better songs since, but it is still a favorite for reminding me to have a fresh perspective and not let my past hurts determine my future.
My Game Changers
My Dad sent the song to a record label. The label sent back a contract. For the next two years, I spent all my free time writing new music.
I know that music saved my life in many ways. Music truly was a “game changer.”
Because of it, I never once felt like I needed to use drugs or alcohol because I had music to give me purpose.
That one note of affirmation was all I needed to write more songs and a couple of years later at the age of 14 recorded an album of 8 songs entitled, “Won’t Be Defined.” One of the songs on the album is called Stained Glass Heart about how in our brokenness we are beautiful and can shine a light of hope to others like a stained glass piece of art.
It was an amazing feeling to have a CD with my songs, photos and lyrics on the packaging. Though I had achieved some outstanding things, the crazy part was at that time, I did not want my classmates to know about it. Remembering the bullying from the past, I did not want the same to happen in secondary school. One thing I do regret today is being ashamed of myself and my talents. I wish I would’ve had the courage at that time to share who I truly am. I think I would still be hiding it today except for realizing that if I keep it a secret I won’t be able to help students like me deal with their insecurities.
Since my first album, I have had the opportunity to record another EP entitled, “Defined to be Different” with grammy award winning producer, Tedd T. I have been touring around the country with the band NEXTERA.
It has been a joy to encourage and uplift today’s youth to realize they are not defined by what others say, but by the strength of their character and how they care for one another.
Along with music, encouraging others is another “game changer” for me. I have always loved to build people up. I love to find the students that are like me in school. I want to find the students that are sitting alone and make them know their potential and the importance they have in this world.
This past summer I had the pleasure of being a counselor at a summer camp. One time when I counseled, one of the other counselors told me, “Don’t you know we’re off the clock? You can take a break now.” I spent an extra 30 minutes hanging out with that student because I genuinely love to engage with students. I didn’t care if I was “off the clock.” I like to seize every moment I get to make a difference and make every student feel like they matter. I could’ve spent time with my peers that were my own age, but instead I will always choose to engage with students, no matter if it’s at camp or at a school.
My mission is to help students know to be unashamed of the things that make them different.
Every kid has a light, and no one should ever blow it out. The world would be boring if we were all the same. My question to students is,
“Why would you want to be carbon copies or clones of each other?”
I think if students don’t try to follow the status quo, they will be more able to accept and cherish who they really are.
Students’ Game Changers
Students may not have the same “game changer” as me, but I know they each have something that makes them a unique individual. I’ve had many game changers that gave me the hope and strength to get through the crazy world out there.
My goal is to challenge students to find their own unique “game changer.”
I believe that as they do, it will be game changing for the school’s environment as a whole, allowing students to know:
They have Value, and
They have Purpose
Each individual student is an MVP.
As they activate their own unique talents to help others, students will realize they are not alone and they have hope for today and the future.