The year I graduated from high school happened to serendipitously line up as one of the years when the area was INFESTED WITH CICADAS, so our ceremony was held in our un-air-conditioned gymnasium with the doors closed and a giant fan blowing that did nothing but re-circulate everyone's hot breath and expletives. Our parents took photos of us in the front lawn afterward and it took twice as long because we had to pick giant flying cockroaches from each other's gowns. Clearly, it stands out in my mind as a time of great sentiment and value.
I didn't hate high school, but I wasn't sad about the end of it. College seemed like the next great adventure, and for the most part I like change if I know it has the potential to be a good one.
That fall after graduating, I moved an hour away from home into a dirty old dorm on the University of Kentucky's campus with one of my close friends. Our parents helped us move everything in, and once they left I remember us each sitting on our new (to us) beds across from each other and thinking "We are alone now. LET'S GO DO WHATEVER WE WANT." So I think we went and bought batteries and ate gross campus food. Things that just shouted, "INDEPENDENT WOMEN."
I had no idea what I was going to major in, because I saw possibility in every option and felt overwhelmed by the prospect of picking something that I'd do the rest of my life. My mom encouraged me to go to a community college to take care of my general credits, but I balked at the suggestion because I thought I was too good for it. I was a stupid eighteen-year-old, and very wise in my own eyes. Instead, I skipped classes. I drank mystery liquor at parties (thank you Jesus for protecting me from that stupidity). I met with professors that thought it endearing that I wanted to major in English and be a writer. They were quick to inform me with a firm declaration that I'd likely have no prospects of a job. Confused and defeated, I found myself starting to flounder. Our family was going through a difficult season and my grades just kept getting worse. A couple years in, and thousands of dollars in debt later, I waved my white flag. I was trying to pay for school, rent, and living expenses and the ends were not meeting.
The decision to step back and step out of college was not taken lightly. I was terrified to even suggest it to my parents, but was surprised and relieved to find them supportive. They encouraged me to move home for a while and pay off my debt.
I went to college because that was the trajectory and path I'd been taught was best for me and I never had any reason to question it. It's a really good path, but it took a long time to be okay with the fact that it wasn't mine and that it wasn't the only one. Work hard to get into college, pick a major, take out some student loans, and all of the et cetera before you wake up one day in the middle of the Talking Heads song and you ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"
The decision to leave college was so very humbling. I felt like a failure, and I let myself be identified by it for a really long time. I held tightly to labels of QUITTER! and DOOMED! and WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING! even though, no one was saying that to me. It was my own song, and I kept singing it.
I don't regret the two years that I went - it was an experience I wouldn't have traded for anything, and the failure was good for me. It was a season of my life when I came to know Jesus, met my best friends, and realized that once again, my mom was right. Basically, it was a lot like when I begged my mom to let me become a figure skater. I really just wanted to wear the ice skating outfits and look like Nancy Kerrigan - not go to the Olympics one day, unfortunately. I know now that I was a baby and should have waited and figured things out a bit more.
I had to work twice as hard to prove myself because if ever qualifying myself to an employer, and I'm always going to be filed in the "SOME college" category. That's okay. A countless number of times, it has eliminated me from potential jobs that I'd have loved to do. It forced me to have a strong work ethic - and in many ways my faith has been so encouraged to see the ways God provides. It has humbled me as I've stumbled through seasons of working multiple jobs, lamenting the hardships and monotony of customer service and hoping to one day do something I loved. It has made me so incredibly thankful for the opportunities people give me when they take a chance on me and let me prove that I'm just as capable without it.
For some of us, we figure out what we love by first experiencing the things that we don't and going by process of elimination. That's how it was for me. Everyone doesn't have the financial means to pay for college. Conversely, I know many of my friends struggle with the fact that they do have a college degree, but aren't working in their field of study. We're all just learning to sail our ships, you know?
Recently I went to the dermatologist and in his effort to make small talk it somehow came up that I didn't finish college. He launched into a lengthy Mike Brady-esque monologue about how I needed to finish because I might be very smart, but someone with a degree would always get the job before me. I sat there staring at him thinking, "Who are you and can we please just go back to discussing the mole on my eyebrow that's starting to look like a big nipple."
That was a huge victory for me, though (unfortunately the nipple is still there) - but I let it go. I understood where he was coming from, but I knew it wasn't true and that it wasn't part of my identity. I stopped letting it get to me. I'm not my accomplishments or shortcomings. Obviously I haven't arrived anywhere, but it's a huge victory for me to see where I've been and what God has done. The world told me my prospects would always be bleak, but God always has better plans and I wouldn't do anything differently. I take that back - I would definitely say no to the mystery liquors if I got to do it again.
I'd love to hear about your experience. Did you always know what major you'd choose? Did you skip college? Do you have a dermatologist you'd recommend? Tell me.
In the end, just remember:
YOU IS KIND
YOU IS SMART
YOU IS IMPORTANT