Time and time again you hear the narrative: college was the greatest time of my life. It helped show me who I am and what I needed to do. It paved the way.
For me, that’s only partly true. And partly untrue. In college I gained awareness of the world around me. I learned about new topics and issues. I entered adulthood during those years, though I still don’t completely feel like an “adult”.
But I didn’t “find myself”. I didn’t have a magical “life-changing” experience. I made some friends here and there. But I found myself mostly isolated, even intimidated at times by the people around me: ambitious young adults who seemed to be oozing with knowledge and experience far surpassing my own.
I did become more uncertain about my future. I did become more depressed and anxious. I felt as if I were being thrown headlong into “the real world”, where literally EVERYONE moved faster than me and more decisively.
I had moments where I simply wanted to lock myself away and write in my own creative zone where nothing outside could trouble me. But many frustrations did: loneliness, anxiety, romantic/sexual frustrations/a sense of isolation from other people my age no matter how close I got to them.
I’ve often wondered since then what the use was sitting around and writing stories/novels when I could have made myself more practical. I’ve heard SO MANY stories from friends of “fun college times”. And, to be honest, some of that shit is pretty damn funny. Often I listen to try and relive, through imagination, something I never had.
We always see the story about the awkward high school kid who’s quiet, lonely, and doesn’t quite mix in with the social crowd. And then, it magically stops after high school. Because, we all know, EVERYONE finds their place in college.
But what about those who don’t, and are still searching? That narrative remains silent because everyone’s supposed to have “it” by adulthood: successful career, happy relationship, and a sense of place.
“Finding oneself” completely in college is one of the noble lies we tell teenagers. You’ll live it up, you’ll make stunning transformations, you’ll have the absolute BEST time of your time. But what happens when you go through depression/anxiety/ADD and find out that this “great time” isn’t all it’s supposed to be?
You stay in that “awkward high school” phase. Odds are, you don’t date much, because your social skills are still in progress. Sure, you could try drinking recklessly like everyone else, but then you’ll wake up remembering that the only brave words you made towards that random, cute girl came out of a shot glass.
You could try using the alcohol to cope, but that always ends up in worse depression. And desperation. You start to look for groups, not always doing so out of mutual interests, but an inborn desire to “find some place”.
And all around you you hear the glowing reports of how “wonderful” and “amazing” college is. You must be missing something. But the harder you attempt to find it, the further it slips away.
And then it’s over. You’re out in the world. But you still haven’t “found yourself”.
The reason I’m saying this is because, just like the “glory tales”, I’ve heard stories from other people whose college experience wasn’t so ideal. Like me, they are confused as to why their four years at university didn’t fulfill them. Or why their mental health declined, rather than skyrocketed.
Why: because they all heard the “noble college lie”: about all your “best times” taking place on campus. And the most “formative” part of your life.
Some people “form” in college and some people “don’t”. That’s just the reality. In the wise words of my friend, “the shit ain’t for everyone”. How many successful people were dropouts?
My own disappointment had an initially bad result: disillusionment. Constant comparison with other people in literally “every” aspect of life. It drove me crazy. I spent the entire first semester of grad school trying to “live it up” in order to compensate for the lack of happiness and fulfillment I experienced in undergrad. While everyone else had already “gone through that” and were now fully-functioning professionals.
The bad part was going out and spending WAYYYYY too much money at bars and clubs. I HAD to have that “great experience” everyone was talking about. I was way overhyped to satisfy a part of myself that had never found a sense of social belonging.
But the good part was that I made a lot of new friends: people I still talk to. And I wouldn’t change that. I would just like to forget the part that came to an epic crash. Call it a “Tale of Two Cities” philosophy: I had the “best of times” with friends, and yet the worst of depression.
Depression is odd that way: you push yourself to the limit trying to elevate that you forget to slow down. But then reality slams the brakes. And sends you crashing through the windshield.
Things have thankfully been more steady since then. I’ve started to put things into perspective. But I still have times where I wish I could repeat those “four formative years”. Maybe in a different town and school.
But the bottom line is, people place WAY too much emphasis on college. It’s helpful, yes; instructive, yes. But is it the definitive “young adult” experience? Hell to the no.
Social media often lies by showing otherwise: smiling, drunken faces, exotic vacations, and beaches galore. Which is why you (and I) should probably tune it out if we want to be more well-rounded/less deluded by what we think is the “ideal” lifestyle.
As a writer I am trying to find myself through exposure: blogging, joining writers’ groups, and connecting with professionals in the field. College can certainly help that. But it’s not the ONLY thing. My goal now is to use college “strategically” rather than emotionally, in order to grow myself as a professional.
I didn’t have the “great college experience”. I spent most of the time bouncing around with uncertainty. Sometimes now I feel out of touch/socially stunted around other people my age. I feel like they experienced something I could only dream of, and that I am fathoms behind in the social world.
But I have become better at “faking” things. Because I loathe the idea of “not getting it”: like there’s some epic code that’s far surpassed me. The best thing to do is just fake it sometimes. Nothing feels worse than the sympathy pat when you tell someone you’re a “late bloomer”: that you’re still, as an adult, going through that “awkward high school development phase” that they’ve long mastered and could never understand from your perspective.
Fake it. To those around you, be the best version of yourself that you “could have” been. Just don’t take it to excesses. Don’t blow your money on boozing: put a piece of your meager paycheck into savings.
It’s not really so much about “being yourself,” contrary to public opinion. That’ll put the bad qualities front and center; you don’t want that. It’s about imagining that you already are what you want to be. Even if you’re not there yet. Ergo, fake until you make it. That shows hella more determination than simply “being yourself”.
And allows you to self-discover along the way.
At least, I guess so.
I’m currently still finding the answers.