When my parents dropped me off at Lake Forest College in the fall of 2014, I was excited to stay out late, excited to meet boys, and excited to start experiencing life. I was excited for freedom. However, I found that freedom looks a lot different once you actually have it, that it is not to be abused, and that the way you choose to use it may be different than those around you. And that is okay.
At college, you are given autonomy to either succeed or fail- the decision is yours. When I first got to college I knew I wanted to succeed, but I didn’t have a notion of the sacrifice that came along with success. First semester, I didn’t know many people besides the four girls in my dorm. I was a good student and read every single word that was assigned to me and turned everything in on time. I got a 3.8 and felt great about myself. When I went back to school for second semester, I decided I wanted to have a little more fun. I wanted to drink more, kiss more boys, hang out with more people. So I did. I collected Jagermeister bottles, broke a tooth while partying, kissed plenty of boys, and got a 3.2. I didn’t see this as failure yet, but I had created a new habit. By second semester sophomore year I had a 2.6, threatening my ability to study abroad the following year. I thought about how I might explain that in an interview for grad school. All I could think of was, “That 3.8 is me. After that, I got a little lost.”
I have always had a tendency to align my personality with whomever I’m with. Unfortunately, I made friends with people who prioritized drinking and self-destructive behavior, which only fed and magnified my own. By sophomore year, I could confidently walk into any party and know nearly everyone there, but popularity is no cure for a hangover. I met a boy at the end of sophomore year who knew I had a reputation as a wild gal but didn’t understand why. He told me I was “the most authentic person on this campus," and he was right. He saw my true colors, and he helped me see them too. And now I know that all that time I spent trying to have fun was just neglecting the importance of who I am as a person. As soon as I learned to embrace myself, things became easier. I still have tons of fun, it just feels less forced now.
During and after this mild identity crisis came the great fear and confusion about my future. We've all been there. Luckily, I knew there was one professor who I knew I could talk to. She knows me well; she knows me as a writer, a young woman, and an ambitious student. I went to her because she used to work in marketing, and I recently had finished an internship in marketing; one that seemed to be appealing to everyone but me. I sat in her office for two hours talking about life. We talked about everything from the spirituality of writing to the simplicity of living in the present. I told her that everyone is getting jobs, real internships in offices and each student is so competitive with the next. I told her that, “everyone is running a race that I don’t know I want to be a part of.” She looked at me and simply said, “Girl, go out there and run your own race.” I smiled and felt like the world was lifted off my shoulders. I thanked her for spending so much time with me and talking me back to my true self and true goals. She again simply responded, “A kindred spirit is always around when you need her most.” We hugged and parted ways.
College has given me freedoms I never expected or asked for, but ones that I know I couldn’t live without now. College has given me control over my own life. It has taught me to think and act as I please, to make my own decisions (whether they are good or bad) and deal with their consequences. College has taught me to hustle, because it is rare to have such clarity about our desires. College has taught me to have the courage to love and to be loved. It has taught me to ask for help, to be as true to myself as possible, and to have compassion for myself and others. College has taught me that only I am in control of my success and my happiness. Now and in the future.