"My child is an honor student at __________ Middle School." Sound familiar? Ah, yes, the infamous bumper sticker of a proud parent to a young prodigy. All A's, all the time. BIG things in store. The future is bright for this one! But no pressure, right?
High school. Hormonal teenagers swarming the halls, racing with 50-pound backpacks to beat the tardy bell. It's terrifying even thinking about it. Every moment is meant to prepare you for that final walk across the stage, the few strides that mark your transition from childhood to independence. Finish that written supplement. Study for your SAT and ACT. Apply for financial aid. Interviews are helpful too! Speak to some alumni/alumnus. Don't forget to mention you joined 11 clubs and started 3. Be sure to volunteer, too, because colleges LOVE that. But, oh! It's important to enjoy yourself; these are the best years of your life!
But no pressure, seriously.
While I was navigating through high school, I was given tip after tip on how to be successful. I was told that if I studied hard and a million other things, I'd do great. Don't get me wrong, I'm more than grateful for every pointer I could get. But in complete honesty, when I came to college, I was hit with the brutal truth. I found out the hard way, but I'll spare you the details and get on with the good stuff.
Abigail Brandt: ASB. Robotics. Musical. Honor Roll. DECA. Softball. Soccer. Service trips. Athlete. Scholar. I was Abbey Brandt and I had it all together (or so I thought). And after weeks of slaving over applications, I made my decision: I was going to UCLA. I was praised by teachers, counselors, faculty, family, friends; everyone was so proud to see the fruits of my labor and couldn't wait to witness my bright future unfold. Boy, were we all in for a treat.
I wanted to get away from my baggage. I wanted to leave my 18 years behind me and move forward into adulthood with a clean slate, meet new people, make new memories, and tell new stories, at an amazing school, all while preparing to be the world's greatest pediatric oncologist.
I quickly found out what I wasn't warned of before. They tell you college is hard. They tell you all about the huge lectures, the professors who will never know your name, and the wonderfully sanitary communal bathrooms. You spend your life preparing for "the finish line" when, in fact, it is only one of many mile markers in the ever-changing marathon of life. I got homesick. I got sick. I struggled to find a friend group. I faced academic challenges greater than any before.
I struggled. And I thought my only choice was to move forward and walk it off.
That is the greatest misconception about college. About adulthood. About any worldly responsibility. Pause. Breathe. When was the last time you took a break? Not scheduled, not timed, no expiration date to follow. Think about your major, your job, or whatever is haunting you from your long-overdue to-do list. Are you excited to learn about microbiology, or do you complete those assignments because your parents think you should be a surgeon? Does that internship intrigue you, or does it just look good on a resume? Do you look forward to your commute, eager to start a new day in the office? If not, make a change.
Take a step back and find what makes you grow.
I go to the #1 public school in the nation (take that, Cal, go brus). According to my SAT report, I was "prepared to exceed" in college. Turns out I didn't have "it," or really anything, all together. But there's nothing wrong with that. I took a break. I mean, yeah, it was terrifying. Something had to be really wrong with me. Why couldn't I handle the life that everyone around me seemed to be handling just fine? Turns out, things had to fall apart to come together. Fighting my fears and insecurities, I withdrew from classes and went home. I focused on myself - something I have neglected to do for as long as I can remember. I took the time to ask and answer honest questions: do I like helping people? Yes. Do I want to dedicate the rest of my life to science? Not really; chemistry sucks. Yeah, being a doctor would be cool. But why pursue a career that isn't right for me? Definitely not to be cool. Are there other paths I could take to help people? Absolutely. Am I happy? No. Well, how can I change that? Start by helping myself.
I decided to take control of my own life.
That's right, you can actually do that! No one cares if you take some "me" time, as long as it's going to preserve your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Even if someone did care, they would need to seriously reconsider their own priorities. Spend time fanning your own flame before you give your light to others; becoming your own priority will help everyone around you. Take it from me; I decided to make a change. I switched my major. Narrowed my inner circle. Started writing. Donated what I didn't need, and began cherishing what I do. And last night, for the first time in forever, I found myself excited to live. And it feels good.
So, if you're waiting for a sign, or seeking approval to take that next step, this is it:
It's okay to take a break.