The first time I had experienced freedom was on my first night in Berlin. I was away from home, not troubled by my mom’s phone calls, my dad’s expectations and my friends’ judgment. For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to fit into the mold I had created for myself and I didn’t have to sustain the image that others had of me. This night offered me a clean slate.
I was not someone who went out a lot, who got drunk or made out with strangers. All my actions had been well thought through. They were not always right, but they were always calculated. And then suddenly the euphoria I was feeling in Berlin made room for carelessness.
That night my new Aussie friend suggested to get cocktails and I drank vodka for the first time. When later she proposed to go to a club, I willingly agreed. There, I ended up kissing the Australian guy I had met twenty minutes before.
“Have you ever seen a sunrise before?” my British roommate asked at five AM. I said I hadn’t.
“Well, tonight, you will,” the Australian guy sitting next to me said.
That night in Berlin set a change in motion that most teenagers go through at a much earlier age. It set in motion the wish not to conform to the image of a comfortable life. It set in motion the wish to live and to be wild and careless. It set in motion the wish to become a different person entirely. Because up until then, I had been someone with rules and boundaries. What I asked of myself now, was to let go of them and let myself be.
I remember a conversation I had with a boy in Prague. He was taking a gap year and ‘redefining himself’, learning how to demand less perfection and be happy with himself. Those were the things I was excruciatingly terrible at. I told him how I wanted to let go too and how hard it was for me. So in Prague, we let go together.
But when I got back home, it turned out that it wasn’t the letting go that was difficult. Disregarding the confines of your comfort zone is simple if you’re in the right environment and with the right person. Principles are much easier to abandon than we might seem to think. But it takes so much effort to maintain that state of mind when you get back to where you came from. Back to the place where you must face the consequences. Back to where every action you undertake, transforms into a statement about your identity.
A couple of years ago, I wore a plaid shirt to school. That was in the time I was considered a hippy. Immediately I heard how the plaid shirt looked OK, but just didn’t match my style. I feared that this time, the change in my way of thinking wouldn’t go unnoticed either. And I was right. After only one conversation with my best friend, she remarked that I sounded different. More optimistic somehow. Later, she added that I had become more adventurous.
Now that people were noticing the difference, I had to live up to it. I had to reshape myself into a spontaneous, careless, confident woman. I had to watch my actions to not contradict my newly constructed self.
It was only after a couple of months that I came to understand how ridiculous this behavior was. I had let go of my rules and my boundaries, only to set new ones. Are we ever truly free if all we ever do or think is based on the image we are trying to maintain? Why do people still take gap years to discover their true selves to come back and realize that they had only found a new fake identity?
I always thought that being careless was easy. Effortless. But now I realize how much effort it takes to sustain the appearance of a nonchalant, casual someone. So I decided that I wasn’t going to be careless. I wasn’t going to be anyone at all. And then, maybe, I would finally become myself.