For a good amount of my life, I’ve felt small.
Small not only in the sense that I’m 20 years old and still have people guessing I’m a freshman in high school, but more importantly in the sense of how I’ve chosen to handle what life throws at me.
I guess it’s because up to this point, my life has mostly gone according to plan. I’ve worked hard to succeed, I’ve maintained good morals, and I’ve expected reasonably good things to happen to me because of that. I’m lucky enough to even have a strong support system back at home that expects good things from me as well.
But, more recently I’ve been feeling like all of that hard work is a celebratory thing of the past. Good grades, an accomplished background—it all seems to be typical of any other student I pass each day on my way to class. I am one of 43,000 other students achieving the same standards I did in high school. And let me tell you, that realization didn’t go so well for me from the start.
As I sit here reflecting on this past semester, I can easily tell you it has been my hardest one yet. My professors tested me in ways I never thought possible, and honestly, I thought most of them were out to get me. I struggled, which made me feel even more average. I doubted myself and with what I wanted to do. No matter how much time I spent in the library or setting aside time for office hours, I didn’t feel like I was good enough.
Often times, the struggle would enter full-force, like a crashing wave of emotion coming at me like a tsunami, leaving me with a dignity-crushing, self-reducing kind of insignificance. It seemed like my shortcomings were framed and put on display, prompting a swell of self-pity inside of me that tempted me to just quit and expect the worst. And all the while it was happening, I felt completely blindsided. Was this how everyone else was feeling or was it just me?
I think the reality of my semester is this. I needed that challenge. I needed to have that horrified feeling of whether or not I was actually going to pass a certain class. I needed my life to not go according to plan. I needed to let people in who I would’ve otherwise never met. I needed to relax and just accept that my best is all I can do. Spending hours worrying about my GPA or where I will be in five years from now just wasn’t worth it, because in the long run the only thing that will define me is myself.
First and foremost, I’m not obligated to live up to everyone’s expectations
Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect. And we are under no obligation to give others what they expect. Period. Do things because you care. Do things because you know they are right. Don’t just do things because everyone else expects you to.
Expectations just get in the way of great life experiences
Don’t let expectations (especially other people’s expectations) get in your way. Truth be told, the unexpected is often better than the expected. Our entire lives can be described in one sentence: It didn’t go as planned, and that’s OK.
I don’t need others to hold my hand every step of the way
Be willing to go alone sometimes. You don’t need permission to grow. Not everyone who started with you will finish with you. And that’s OK too.
I get to learn from my mistakes without unnecessary third-party pressure
Yeah, you’re going to mess up sometimes. But the good news is, as long as you’re listening to your intuition, you get to decide how you’re going to mess up. Which means you get to decide how you’re going to live and what you’re going to learn along the way.
Only I can define what’s possible for me and my life
Some people will kill you over time if you let them, and they’ll do it with tiny, harmless phrases like, “Be realistic.” When this happens, close your ears and listen to your inner voice instead. Remember that real success in life isn’t what others see, but how you feel. It’s living your truth and doing what makes you the happiest.
I’m not obligated to anyone more so than I am to myself
Your relationship with yourself is the closest and most important relationship you will ever have. So don’t forget about YOU out there, and don’t be too hard on yourself either. There are plenty of others willing to do both for you. And remember, if you don’t take good care of yourself, then you can’t take good care of others either, which is why taking care of yourself is the best selfish thing you can do.
So I’ve come to learn that tough times never last. Only tough people do. Sure, my college life has bruised me, but it’s also prepared me for the things to come. I can take the harsh criticism and use it as motivation now. I’ve come to realize that it’s really all about the people you meet, the places you see, and the lessons you learn along the way that make each hardship valuable and well worth enduring.
Although it wasn’t easy, I’ve also learned that life will work out. The world doesn’t depend on me, but I do help to make the world a better place, so I choose to use my talents to stand tall when life tries to stomp on me. I think life is too short not to.