I grew up in a small Amish community in northern Indiana—a fact about myself that I despised for years.
After a rough transition out of that culture and religion, my family and I were forced to start over in a new way of life that we knew little about. In the midst of it all, I decided to attend high school despite the Amish tradition of ending education at eighth grade. I loved books and words and numbers and classrooms; at the chance to have more of it in my life, I jumped without barely giving it a second thought.
On my first day of high school, I sat in the back of the bus as it approached the brown brick building, thinking to myself over and over, what have I done, what have I done, what have I done? I walked into my local high school wearing a long plain dress with my hair covered, cheeks growing red as people turned from their lockers to stare.
An Amish girl in high school.
I quickly became the butt of classroom jokes, a new target of the bullies, a bearer of the nickname “amo.” College hadn’t been on my radar as a young freshman, but as I neared the end of high school, I longed for a fresh start where nobody knew anything about me and couldn’t pin me down as the “Amish girl” before even learning my real name.
I wanted to be in control of my story and my identity, and that little fact about where I came from that made me stand out—I wanted it gone. When I got to college, I fought to keep my heritage hidden; I was so terrified of being written off, of being put into box if people found out the details of my background.
But as is human nature, we long to be known and to be known fully.
As I built relationships and established healthy friendships, I slowly took a few select chances on opening up and letting people into that hidden part of my life. It felt good to be known. And when a student reporter reached out for an interview for the college newspaper, I once again jumped without giving my mind a chance to talk myself out of it.
After finishing the interview and providing publishing consent for my thoughts on the Amish, my family’s transition out, and my pursuit of higher education, I quickly became close friends with regret. I dreaded print day and wondered if I had made the right decision in sharing my story.
Then print day arrived, and the response of my peers and friends completely took me by surprise. Gone were the bad jokes, the name calling, the odd looks; in their place came curiosity, acceptance, and even celebration.
It took me completely by surprise. For almost my entire life I had resented the fact that I was born into a culture that was so different from the rest of the world. I hated that people stared at me as a child. I longed to be “normal” and fit in. But that day, my peers’ forthright acceptance of my story completely capsized the inner narrative I had been feeding myself.
I wonder if you can relate.
Whether it’s something physical about ourselves, like the length of our legs, or something more tender, like the fact that we struggle with mental illness—whatever it might be, I wonder if we haven’t all, at one point or another, made the mistake of putting those little miscellaneous bits that make us unique in the wrong category. Perhaps all those pieces that we’ve raged against, swore to hide forever—maybe those are the pieces that have the potential to arm us with strength and purpose.
Girlfriend, hear me when I say this—your uniqueness is your strength. Whatever sets you apart from the pack, whatever makes you distinctly unique—THAT is your strength, and it deserves to be recognized as such. Even if your uniqueness is your hardship, your challenges, a life riddled with confusion and pain. . . you are here, you are alive, you are breathing—and that, my friend, is beauty and courage in action.
So I want to challenge you to look your uniqueness in the eye, say hello to it, invite it into the forefront of your life, and make an effort to understand it deeply and personally. Before you even get a chance to talk yourself out of it, take the first step forward, today, toward wholeheartedly loving your uniqueness.
Angelina Danae is a writer that obsesses over the Oxford comma, female empowerment, and creative living. When she’s not drinking coffee, snuggling her dog, or recording podcasts with her husband, you can find her in the kitchen, probably trying to uncover the mysteries of life in a bowl of dough. You can read more of Angelina’s work at https://www.angelinadanae.com/ or follow her on Instagram: @angelinadanae
*Picture Credit: Christy Shaterian Photography