Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On to the Next One

It’s 2:00 AM and I leave for Boston in a few, short hours. My departure marks the end of my second winter break since college began. To say that this one was different than that of my freshman year would be vast understatement. One year ago, I was sitting on the same white couch, repressing the welling of tears behind my eyes. What awaited me back in Boston was a life of insecurity - one in which I had forgotten who I was, doubted where I was going, and questioned whether or not I was in the right place. But this time I feel different. I feel rejuvenated. I feel like I did when I was 16: confident, carefree, goofy, thirsty for adventure, eager to make connections, and, by the grace of God, fully immersed in the present.

Like so many before me, I entered college with a plan. I wanted to graduate in three years. I wanted to get in, succeed, and get out. I wanted to go to grad school, get my PhD in psychology, marry the woman of my dreams, and settle into a life of routine monotony. I wanted a white fence, a sparkling green yard, and a cute, little porch-swing on which I could read the newspaper on sunny Sunday mornings. It’s not that I was at any point a boring person; it’s that I had endured such chaos in my childhood that all I wanted was simplicity. So when I neared a breakdown in the days preceding sophomore year - one induced by the (natural) realization that I had no sense of who I was and no true idea of who I wanted to be - I worried that I would be yet again returning to my insecure world. But then it dawned on me that none of us are supposed to know exactly who we are or exactly what we want from life. None of us are supposed to be sure of our future - not at 19 years old. 

Human beings simply aren’t programmed that way. We’re multifaceted, complex, self-defeating, and we don’t easily adapt to evolving circumstances. It terrified me to feel as lost as I did before returning to Brandeis for my second year. I was accustomed to unconditional confidence. But when I came to realize that college is the exact time to feel lost and confused, I was able to release a sigh of relief that was long overdue. 

My perfect plan left little room to live a life that wasn’t driven primarily by narrow-minded aspirations. I limited myself from exploring what it means to feel a sense of self. I was under the impression that who I was my senior year of high school was sufficient - that I would be that person forever. But I don’t want to be that person forever. I don’t want to be the person I am right now, typing this piece behind my computer screen, forever. It’s not that I dislike who I am in this moment, I just know that I can be better. We can all be better. College is the time to make untimely mistakes, suffer through the inevitability of social anxiety, and wander aimlessly in search of even a semblance of a sense of self. We do these things so that we may discover what is needed to become our best selves. 

I see a lot of pieces discussing the trials of freshman year circulating throughout Facebook. It’s nice to know that others are coming forward in an effort to generate dialogue on the unmet expectations and undiscussed difficulties of going away to college. It made me wonder whether or not similar discussions should be raised about sophomore year. I have relatively few complaints during this round of school - I’ve strengthened close friendships, I’ve made new ones, I’ve gotten involved on campus, and I’ve reached a place in which I can comfortably say that I love my school, all its quirks and annoyances considered. That said, freshmen and sophomores alike should note that no matter how massively confused and lost you find yourself throughout college, you are in no way an anomaly. 

Sometimes, when I write, I fear that I come across as a condescending know-it-all. That's not my intention. I’m aware that I know comparatively little about life. But that’s the point. The first step to gaining peace of mind throughout the turbulence of college is to recognize that we’re not supposed to know everything, or even anything. We’re supposed to live in the present and learn from the mistakes we’ll inevitably make. We’re supposed to get out of our heads so that we may comfortably operate in the here and the now. Coming to that revelation is what afforded me the clarity to set off on a path toward independent happiness. No longer do I allow my satisfaction to be contingent on the considerations and actions of others. 

I would be lying if I said I didn’t still struggle with the socially exhausting component of college. I would likewise be lying if I said I didn’t care at all about what others think of me. Such concerns are timeless. But I can confidently say that I’ve released myself from the trap that is social comparison. Honestly, I’m not really sure what I’m getting at right now. I haven’t written in a while, and I felt now was the right time to share again. This break has been magnificent in so many ways. I had the chance to reconnect with friends from whom I had drifted in the past year and a half. I entered break with an open mind and a willingness to give others a second chance. I also realized just how special the friendships I’ve created at school are. As I enter the next semester - the next stage - of my college career, I can’t help but reflect on how I felt just a year ago. I’m not terrified anymore. I’m excited to live and grow and pursue adventure and make mistakes and learn from what’s in front of me rather than long for what’s long past. 

So, here’s to the next stage.