It’s me, Grace! 👋 I haven’t posted in a while but I’m back from my first year of college and want to share some reflections with you. My horse Murphy went away to college with me and everyone who welcomed him home for the summer said he looks like he gained the “Freshman 50.” He’s doing great. Anyway, here are my reflections on being away from home for the first time, growing up and getting to know different versions of myself.
I lost several different parts of myself this year. “Lost” might have a negative connotation to you, though. Loss makes you think of a tragedy, like losing a loved one, right? But in this case, I think of it more like a snake shedding its skin, or a caterpillar breaking out of its cocoon. I lost pieces of myself, but I’m growing into the skin that I’m in now and learning how to live differently than I was before.
Reflecting on my first year of college led me to this conclusion. Even though I lost and gained new parts of myself, there were also certain things that followed me to college. One of those is my perfectionism. I’m always seeking to make the best or most perfect decisions so as to achieve the high standard of living that I hold myself to.
My first year in college proved to be no different. I held myself to my usual high standards, but as with everything that comes along with growing up, things start to become a bit more difficult. I’m starting to realize that my standards might be too high for the slowly increasing amount of responsibilities that I acquire as I grow up.
It all was too much at some points – I tried to fit the gym, class, riding, hanging out with friends, running errands, writing, eating, time to relax, homework, and countless other tasks into a day. It might not sound like much, but it all adds up quickly if you don’t balance it correctly. And because I’m a perfectionist, I can’t just “do” these tasks; I have to make sure they are done to my standards.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “What’re these crazy high standards this girl is talking about?” I can’t exactly describe it to you because it depends on what I’m doing, but I can’t do anything halfway. I push myself to go above and beyond to make sure anything I’m working on is done thoroughly and correctly, even tiny things that don’t need to have that much thought put into them. It’s nice sometimes because I always produce great quality work in school, I’m motivated at the gym, and I’ve always made visible progress in riding or whatever I’m doing. But when you apply this to every single aspect of your life, it gets to be tiring. You get burned out and you find yourself unable to stop thinking: thinking about what I could’ve done better, what my next task is, why someone said a certain thing to me in a certain tone in a conversation from 5 hours ago. It got to be too much, and this year, after living on my own, I feel like I was able to notice the effects of it.
I took away a lot from this year. I filled up two whole pages just with a bulleted list of things that I learned since I couldn’t even figure out how to start this reflection. But I think I was able to develop a few main takeaways as to how I am (still) working to change my mindset to adjust to this transition into adulthood.
Accepting Different Versions of Myself
The first major realization was that I started to learn about new things that I liked with the new freedom that I had. Some people might say that I turned into a different person than I was in high school. No one at college knows me as “the quiet one,” in fact it’s quite the opposite! But if you asked someone I wasn’t close with in high school to use three words to describe me, I’d bet $100 that quiet would be one of them. I was a lot more social this year, I learned that I like going out, meeting new people, being a little wild. This year taught me that I’m going to experience a lot of different versions of myself, and I have to love them all as they come and go. It can be off putting when you hear people saying “Wow, it’s like I don’t know you anymore” or “When did you start doing that?!” But I know it’s important to remember that I’m doing what makes me happy, no matter how someone else may perceive that. I’m learning how to live differently than what I grew up with, and discovering sides of me that I didn’t really know I had. My core values haven’t changed, but I’m just adding to what I already have! The world is so big, and I want to experience as much of it as possible.
This idea that I’m going to experience many different versions of myself also made me question things I’d loved my whole life, like riding. Riding can easily become more like a chore rather than fun if I let it consume me through my perfectionist personality. But this year taught me that I need horses in my life, even if that means taking a step back to understand why I love riding and why I keep doing it. The barn was my escape at school, and it got me out of bed on days when I found myself getting stuck inside my head. On the days that I question why I still ride, this year especially showed me how horses have always been there for me when no one else has. I know that no matter how much I change, and even if the role they play is different, horses will always be a constant in my life.
Living In the Present
This year also made me realize how I need to be better about living in the present. So often I’d find myself sitting in a lecture about the history of Christianity or studying for a bio exam in the library for hours, wishing that I could be doing anything else. But especially with how our high school years ended, I have to remind myself that in four years, I know I’ll wish that I could go right back to that boring lecture or tedious study session. Time is fleeting, and I’ve noticed it’s even more so in college. I always felt like one week in college was at least two or three weeks in the real world! Forcing myself to live in the present no matter how much I’d rather skip to the future created a deeper sense of gratitude for everything I was doing. It made me realize how lucky I was to even be in college.
On the other hand, learning to live in the present can also help control my overthinking about the past. I have to remember that all I can control is the now – I can’t change the past, and the future isn’t even here yet. There’s no need to overthink how it will play out. The same goes for people, too. I can’t control other people’s actions, I can only control how I react to them in that present moment. Even if I’m giving someone my best in a relationship, that doesn’t mean they’re going to reciprocate that effort. I know now to realize when it’s time to let go of people, and I’m better off if those people leave.
The present taught me a lot about understanding what I can and can’t control, and it helped me notice that I spend way too much time thinking about other people and what they’re doing. Instead, I need to focus on myself and how I live in the current moment (both of these are things that I’m in control of). It’s a lot easier said than done and I’m still learning, but I know that everyone’s journey is different, and if I want to get anywhere, I need to focus on myself.
No Such Thing as “Wrong” Decisions
With my overthinking, I can easily get caught up in making the “right” decision. One thing that I took away from this year is that there are no right or wrong decisions, there are only decisions. And no matter what decision you make, everything else will work out how it’s supposed to. This also showed me that nothing is permanent. People you thought would be in your life for a while will leave, you get injured, develop new interests, and grow apart from old friends. Change is inevitable. So don’t be afraid to make a change if something’s not going well, and learn to embrace change when it comes unexpectedly.
Because there aren’t really any right or wrong decisions, I realized that I take a lot of things way too seriously. Like I said earlier, I struggle with letting anything I’m working on consume me because I can’t do things to the point where they’re just “good enough.” I realize now that I waste a lot of time trying to make things perfect that don’t need to be perfect. In my mind, I try to redefine “doing your best” to “giving your best effort at the time.” This means that every time I find myself trying to make schoolwork, a certain chore, or a workout routine perfect, I have to factor in everything else that’s going on in my life. Did I get enough sleep? Have I given myself enough time to relax lately? I also keep in mind, does putting this much effort into one assignment or task really impact the outcome? I know I have to be better about understanding these variables, and not take things so seriously. In order to be productive, I need to allow myself the space to relax, have fun, and rest. The decisions I make won’t determine whether I fail or succeed in life. Things will happen how they’re supposed to happen and I know I’ll figure my problems out.
If I could describe my freshman year of college in one word, I think I would say that it was ambivalent. I had some of the loneliest moments of my life and others where I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be surrounded by such good people. It was exciting and new, yet dull and tedious. There were days where I cried most of the time and others that I couldn’t stop smiling. How is it possible to feel so thankful for an experience yet also so disappointed in it? It confused me to have so many emotions swirling around at once throughout this year, and I think that’s why it was so difficult to figure out one main idea to write about.
One of the most important things I learned this year is that it’s okay to feel ambivalent about a person, a year, or anything. You can have beautiful memories with someone or something, yet they can make you cry at the same time. I feel like I have a greater understanding of how to acknowledge both of these feelings, and take away the separate value and purpose of each. I learned that you need to allow yourself to feel how you feel. I’m not the best at letting my emotions come and go. I try to hide them as much as possible, putting on my face that looks good to the rest of the world. But sometimes, things aren’t good. And you’re never going to get over that feeling if you don’t embrace it and allow it to happen.
I don’t think I’ve ever learned more than in these past nine months. So many different lessons, and yet I think they all have two common themes: I need to be kinder to myself and learn to let go. Everything is a learning experience, nothing is wasted time. You made the decisions you made for a reason, so don’t regret anything.
Coming back home from school has shown me how time heals most things. By the end of the summer, I know I’ll be ready to go back and tackle another year. I can’t wait to keep learning more about myself in these next four years, through the good and the bad!
One thought on “Year One: Living and Learning”
You are your own best therapist. Peeling back our “onion” layers is fun, scary, revealing, and surprising; it is the ever changing set of nows in our lives. Cherish all of those moments and learn from them.