The first semester of college is an extremely jarring change of pace from that of life accustomed to the structured and hierarchical nature of education before that. In my case education was social. The only time in which you really see and interact with people is at high school. There was a very clear distinction between that of my educational and social life and that of my private, more serious interpersonal life. I grew tired of this way of living, so as most high school seniors do, I got very excited to leave the structured environment of secondary education. I wanted to go out and take the first step in living the independent life that every teenager dreams of living.
What I was not ready for was how drastic of a change this would be and the conflicts that would arise with the new lifestyle that I was placed in. There were people in my life who I had to leave, those people were not at all happy with the situation, but I like to try and think that they were happy I was making decisions for myself and living my own life. However, there was still conflict. I had a broad new landscape in front of me, unexplored and eager to be discovered, but I also had what I left behind. What was left behind was comfortable, it was all that I had known for the beginning part of my life and while I was ready to leave the setting I was not ready to leave the people and connections I had there.
For the first few months of college I felt extremely lost. I was trying to balance my new life at school with the life I had at home. It felt as if there was a divide between the two. A divide where the people I had known had no interest in the new people I was meeting and the new connections I had been creating. This is not how it should be done. When you go away to college or are in a new setting in general, you are still you. You can have friends at college and friends at home, they can be separate, but they can and should intermingle. There aren’t two lives being lived, it’s one and it’s yours. If there are aspects of your life that create that divide, then those aspects shouldn’t be there because they only will create more confusion and lead you to lose the person you really are.
I remember at one point I described my feeling of being lost with this, “I feel as if I’m crawling on my hands and knees in the dark with no real sense of direction and every once and awhile I find something worth keeping, but then there is an outside force dragging me away from it.” These outside forces kept me from developing as a person and creating a more fleshed out character. I was finding real connections through the groups I had joined at SUNY New Paltz. Organizations like The Oracle and Absolut A Cappella allowed me to create friendships that I never want to lose. If my relationships created here and the relationships I had in the past could not exist together then one of them had to leave and the choice wasn’t as easy as people would think. Ultimately, I had to do what was best for me and my mental health. That right there is what I implore everyone to do. Things might seem like selfish endeavors but sometimes being selfish is the best thing you can do because at the end of the day you are the one that has to wake up the next morning and look at yourself in the mirror, not anyone else. You are not obligated to live anyone else’s life or to live your life according to what anyone else says, so I ask that everybody take the time to look and see what they can do to benefit themselves.
Finding that message was something that I was worried about. I knew I felt this sensation of being lost, I really didn’t feel like I knew who I was. It was this feeling that inspired me to write a column on this topic, but I worried that there was no real meaning behind it. As time progressed however, I made the decisions that I needed to and am happier because of it. I by no means have everything figured out, I recognize that I myself am a flawed human being just like everyone else. I don’t blame people for their flaws because I have mine and that is what really brings us all together as humans.
We are all unique beings with our own experiences that lead us on different paths. Sometimes these paths converge and other times they separate even though it is the last thing you think you want or need. There’s nothing wrong with finding comfort when paths converge, and there’s nothing wrong with being upset when they diverge. But life moves on, the path is still created and when moving forward, you can’t make any decision without acknowledging the road behind you.
When looking out onto the road ahead of you, there can be a lot of fear and pain associated with it. Maybe there is fear in repeating mistakes of the past, maybe it’s just an anxious excitement to see what’s coming. The greatest thing that can be derived from that fear and anxiety is to know that the road you’re on is yours and no one else’s. It’s a journey unique to you and nothing will change that.
So why do we need to hear this? I think the answer to that question is extremely complex, just as complex as the individuals who are hearing it. There are some simple conclusions that can be drawn though. We are social beings, we live to create a complex network of people that we can confide in and build relationships with. The only problem is, while we do that we are also navigating an equally complex maze within our minds to define ourselves. In many cases this network does define us, but the important thing to learn is, who are you without those people? That network is always changing, nothing really stays forever, so there has to be some constant and it is important to find that within yourself rather than letting the outside forces of life drag you away from the things you find. Allow yourself to control the outside forces from entering in, first by being firm in who you are. I’m not sure if that journey ever has an end, I know that I am still on it and I hope that everyone can one day find who they really are.