It’s a common question to ask when you’re reflecting on a sizable period of your life: what would I do if I could go back and do it all over again? Well, what if you actually could? After the year and a half of virtual schooling I, like many other college students, have endured, I have the rare opportunity to start over again. Now, for the golden question: what am I going to do differently?
Well, before we can get into the future, I think it would only be fair to explain my circumstances a bit. After all, much of what I’ve learned has come from my lived experiences.
I started college at a small liberal arts school in New York in the fall of 2019. About a month into the first semester, I learned that I was actually not a first-year student. I was actually two credits short of being a second semester sophomore. Like anyone else in my shoes, I had a slight existential crisis. Eventually, the stressful question of what am I going to do? was sorted out and I decided I would just milk my experience out into a full four years. After all, I felt like I lost a lot of the “high school experience” when I committed most of my time to dance, so why not make up for it now?
The why not? A global pandemic, of course. Duh. The world was gifted what I call the longest spring break of all time, and my college experience shifted from a beautiful campus to my bedroom and a laptop. When the fall rolled around, I was able to start coming back to campus, but between the limitations from the school and state and the never-ending drama (there’s more than enough for me to write a book series), things were straight-up weird. I was so overwhelmed with everything happening around me that I decided to only make the slight stretch to a three year college education. I also ended up distancing myself from many of the friends I made during my first year, keeping two close individuals I trusted more than anyone else and staying in touch with some acquaintances who were always fun to talk to. It was difficult to make new friends from the Zoom classroom, but I was thankfully able to keep in touch with some long-distance friends and find a few new people to talk to.
Now that you’re all caught up, we’re here. It’s the summer of 2021 and I’m about to start my final, and only full, year of college. Most of the people I was friendly with just graduated, and I can count on one hand the remaining individuals I’m friendly with. It’s a weird place to be, but it’s beautiful. I actually get to have that magical experience of starting over again, but this time with everything I learned from the first time around. So, what am I going to do?
First, there’s the fairly obvious part to the answer. I know which professors I like and dislike, as well as which types of courses I am the happiest in, so I’ll be tailoring my schedule to that. On the involvement side, I know which clubs and organizations I felt like I belonged in, as well as which meetings I’m pretty much never going back to. On the social front, I know which types of people and friend groups I get along best with. Of course, every person is an individual and can’t be judged as part of a group, but I at least know which red flags to look for. I learned about a lot of red flags in my short time at college. These are to be expected, and these are fairly standard adaptions that we all make as we go through life.
However, there is one much bigger thing. The natural environment of college, paired with the time for self-reflection in the midst of a pandemic, was almost a super-incubator for growth. I learned a lot about myself in a short period of time. More importantly, my perception of myself and my identity took almost a 180. I was a much quieter person in high school, but I found my voice in college. My personal style changed. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll probably have noticed that my approach to life changed. I have a much clearer idea of who I want to be and what I want out of life than I ever did before.
There’s a caveat, though. I felt that, up until the last semester, I wasn’t able to fully express this inner self. Part of it related to the fact that I was in a social environment where I was closely bound by the expectations of what others wanted from me. The other part related to the expectations and perceptions that the greater community had of me and how hard it is to change that.
Now, none of that exists. I have full freedom to reinvent myself by nature. Plus, I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to just be me without the influence of other’s expectations. I’m a nerd, I love to tell stories, and I love dressing up. I want to be a storyteller and work in media, and I love to create content. I have no shame in that, so why should I let others dictate who I should be? This final year, I’m going to dress how I want and act how I’m comfortable, regardless of what others believe.
There’s one final thing I learned: balance. I have a tendency to commit myself to a lot and put others before myself. A year is simultaneously too much and nowhere near enough, so I have to use my time wisely. I have to spend it on what brings me joy. I want to have a year where I’m excited to get out of bed everyday and experience something new. With that, I’m going to make sure I take the necessary time for myself and my desires, as opposed to structuring my life around others. There’s a give and take in every relationship, and independence is a necessity to maintain yourself.
With one year to do it all, I want to live an experience that makes me happy. I want to have the college life I’ve always dreamed of and make the most of my education. I am lucky enough to have the chance to do that. This next year is going to be a journey, but it is going to be one that I write myself. After all, I am the key to unlocking my own magic. Cue Happily Ever After and let the adventure begin.
So, if you were given the chance to do it all over again, what would you do?