“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

When I was twelve years old, I dyed my hair blue.

I hated my natural hair color—a light, unobtrusive brown—because it seemed way too boring. The deep, mysterious cyan that I chose instead was more aligned with the woman I wanted to be.

I wish I could say that my desire to stand out was a phase that ended in puberty, but my hair tells the real story. It’s been a dozen different colors over the years: Raven black during a goth phase in high school; varying shades of copper in college; and blonde to test the “they have more fun” hypothesis in my 20s. (Verdict: false.)

My drive to be exceptional extended to all facets of my life and I was rewarded for it with acceptances to prestigious schools and a successful career. Through all of my shapeshifting, though, I lived in fear of others finding out that I, like my natural hair color, was ordinary. To me, there could be no worse fate.

It took a long time for me to understand that my fight against appearing average was the wrong battle. Instead of focusing on being remarkable, I should have spent my energy being myself.

Today, nearly twenty years later, I’m finally happy as a brunette.

— Valentina Zarya