Who I Am and How I’d Like to Live

I have been deliberately open and honest about my feelings and intentions because to be otherwise would suggest that they are shameful, or wrong, and I disagree.  I will never let another person invalidate the way I feel.  I will never be ashamed to be who I am.  And I will never let my story be silenced so long as it is one that I’m willing to share.  (And as my friends will tell you, I dearly love to talk about myself, so if you’re waiting for me to take a seat before you speak, I’m deeply un-sorry, but you’ll be standing for a long time coming.)

But at the same time, I have not always been forward about myself.  I have never declined to answer questions about my experiences when asked, but as you’ve probably learned about me in just these few sentences, I do kind of enjoy being fairly vague and mysterious.  There’s an immense love of storytelling to blame for that, but here: let me be forthcoming.  The following are a list of facts about the past year of my life, and the thing I have learned, and the things that I feel.

I applied to transfer to another university.

Every day I wish I could wake up and have the chance to make a different decision than the one I did.

I wish I had never chosen to come to Georgetown.

I do not know who I am, and I have only fleeting inklings of who I would like to be.

I have continuously felt isolated, and lonely, and miserable to be stuck on a campus and in a city full of people who are single-mindedly driven to academic and professional success at the cost of appreciating that life is not simply how many figures you make or how many A’s are on your college transcript.  It is, indeed, any but that.

I recognize that everything is not as black and white as I try to make it out to be.

There is an immensely strong chance that, despite my hard work and personal troubles, I will be resigned to spending another year at this school, and maybe even another two after that, due to financial restrictions.

So there.  That’s me in a nutshell.  And while I have spent the past year doing my best not to let this completely unhealthy environment collapse my carefully-constructed mental stability, I’ve been wondering: what about you?  What about you, students of Georgetown?  Who are you, and what are your stories?  No, not your resume for God’s sake, but the real stuff, the stuff that actually matters, the things that define you, the things that make you who you are, the (maybe-not-so) dark secrets that you keep to yourself for fear of being branded, and cast out from this insanely idiotic, toxic, bubbly, happy, stressed-but-thriving, dying-with-a-smile Georgetown façade that everyone seems to be buying into…what are those?

Can we just cut the crap for five seconds and have an honest conversation?

Because if I have to stay at this school for another 1-3 years, I’m going to need your help.  I’m going to need you to stop pretending that everything is okay all the time when sometimes it’s just really fucking not.  I’m going to need you to stop saying “good” when I ask you how you are.  I’m going to need you to stop pretending like you don’t see me, or that you don’t even know me when I see you on my way to class, because frankly, I haven’t decided which one is more insulting.  I’m really good with names and faces, people.  I take it personally.  And lastly, I’m going to need you to put that textbook down every once and a while and do something for yourself, do something purely because you enjoy it and it brings you happiness.

The world is beyond these gates, people.  It’s beyond this city, and it’s beyond you and me, and you’re missing out on it because you want to sit in the library all night convincing yourself that studying all the time is all going to pay off in the future and that happiness comes later.  It doesn’t.  The future is now, we’re living in it, and the only way it gets better is if we stop worrying all the time, stop micromanaging the steps to get there, and just live.

Dream School, Written 5/16/15

When I wrote “What Would You Do for Your Dream School?” a little over a month ago, I had no idea that I would be writing a love letter to my future self.  The idea of a dream school is something I’ve struggled with for at least half my life.  Well, I guess it wasn’t a struggle until I got rejected by my first dream school a year ago.  Princeton was the be-all, end-all of my academic identity.  I never once questioned what the point of hours of work each night, constant sleep deprivation, and excessive competition with my peers was, because of course it all made sense.  The point was Princeton.  The point was getting into my dream school.  The point was that unhappiness in the present was going to pay off in the future.  And the future was real soon if only I could hold on that much longer.

And sure, I applied to other schools, but realistically I had never imagined what it would be like to attend any of them.  I had never taken the time to analyze what it was that I wanted from my college experience, what factors would make some place feel like home and suit my needs.  I hadn’t thought about how my personal experiences would shape the person I would become, and how those experiences were incompatible with certain other experiences I could encounter at certain schools.  So when it came down to the wire (literally the last day I could possibly make the decision), I chose to attend Georgetown, because it was the school that I got into that most closely aligned with what I had thought I wanted from Princeton.  Prestige.  Rigorous academics.  Tradition.  Elitism.

Sometimes we look back and realize that we were staring an opportunity that could change our lives right in the face, and that we didn’t take it.  When an acceptance from Georgetown came rolling around right after four Ivy League rejections (and one waitlist), I thought this must be my saving grace.  I thought it would be the ticket to proving to everyone that I was indeed smart enough and accomplished enough to attend a top-tier school.  I thought that by saying yes, I could still become that person who I had wanted to be my whole life.

A year later, and I have to wonder: did it ever cross my mind that I thought wrong?

Just like I had spent eight years doing with Princeton, I spent that summer after saying yes building up Georgetown into my idealized version of a dream school.  The sweeping relief and happiness that so many of my peers felt after finally deciding where they would attend never came for me.  The lingering doubts about the choice I had made remained, but I tried to brush them off in favor of throwing myself into the little tasks of college preparation.  Finding a roommate, registering for classes, making a list of items to buy for my dorm, deciding which things to bring and which things to leave behind.  Interacting with future classmates.  Searching for that feeling of solid ground on which I could build the next four years of my life.

I can tell you that I didn’t find it.

By the time I flew into Washington in late August, I had done a decent job of brainwashing myself into excitement.  Other students seemed to glow with a sense of purpose after finally setting foot on the campus of their dream school.  I tried to fake that sense of belonging into myself as well, but it just didn’t take hold.  I tried to give it time, but by the end of the first week of classes, I knew that I had gotten it all wrong.

One of the more frustrating aspects of trying to decide where I would go to college was the spark.  Everyone told me that you can just feel it, deep down when you visit a school and just intuitively know that you’ve found your new home.  And I felt that with Princeton, so the wild scramble to find that feeling again with another school was confusing, and disheartening, and ultimately misleading.  I had tried to convince myself that Georgetown was the new place for me, where I wanted to go and where I could become the best version of myself, but I guess truthfully I’d have to tell you that it always felt like chasing an elusive idea about who I was, and never the actual reality of being me.

That amazing, life-changing opportunity that you’re not supposed to give up?  Yeah, that was NYU.  I thought the shot in the dark was me fulfilling my dreams of attending a top-tier school after almost certain rejection, but the real challenge I was meant to overcome was exactly that idea of myself.  I was supposed to take a leap of faith.  I was supposed to reject Ivy League greatness just like it rejected me.  I was supposed to believe in myself, shed my pride, and accept the fact that sometimes the most wonderful things in life spring from the most terrible grief of losing part of your imagined future self.

So what do I do now?

I’m not going to give up.  I can’t imagine giving up.  Not like this.  Not after everything I’ve been through the past year, not after how much I’ve learned about myself and grown and changed.  Not after seeing what my life could have been, time and time again.  I just can’t.  But I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how I can possibly hold on to this missed chance, this one opportunity to make it all right, when I just don’t have the ways and means to do it.  I need help.  But from God-knows-where am I going to find it?

As A Storyteller, Written 12/17/14

As a storyteller, I got a lot of things wrong.  If I was the author, being interviewed about the story (my life, of course, the only story I know how to tell), I couldn’t answer many substantive questions.  What do you want to be when you grow up?  What do you want to major in?  Where do you want to live when you’re older?  No, for most of my life, the only thing I had figured out was that I was a Princeton girl, class of 2018.

See, I had this vision in my storyteller mind.  Beginning, middle, and end.  The girl has a rough childhood, moves around a lot, doesn’t know where to call home or for how long.  Girl moves one final time, move coincides with puberty, emotional shit storm of a life transition.  Realizes a lot of things about herself.  Grows.  Learns.  Eats books.  Conquers pens.  Girl is exemplary student in high school, finishes perfect academic career, prances off to lifelong dream of an Ivy League education, rises above challenging circumstances.  Happily ever after.  At eighteen years old.  The end.

I was the writer.  I was in control.  I had gotten through the rising action – lived it, even.  The groundwork was all there.  All I had to do was ascend the climax and pen the ending.  It was my story.  I had the control.

Except I didn’t.

*

About a week ago I sat on the floor of a hallway on the sixth floor of a dorm in New York City next to a girl who has known me longer than most.  One of the only people who recognized my unimportant existence as a new student in a freshman class of kids who grew up together.  We were fourteen then.  Now we are eighteen – almost done with our first semester of college.

It was past two in the morning on a Wednesday.  She had a paper due the next day.  I had a bus back to Washington, DC in twelve hours.  I should have returned to where I was staying hours ago.  Taken a shower.  Gone to bed.  But there we both were, still up, still out.  My butt was painfully numb from how long we had been sitting.  She looked over at my face peering into a laptop screen, at the backpack beside me with six unread books for my upcoming exam.

“You should study,” she insisted.  Coming from anyone else I would have called her uptight, but that wasn’t it.  She simply cared.

“C’s get degrees,” I shot back, not lifting my eyes from the task at hand.

“You’ve changed so much.”  I looked up.  I couldn’t tell if she found this sad or amusing.  Maybe just another fact of life.

“What?  No, I haven’t.”

“Yes, you have,” she continued.  “Do you remember what you were like when we first met?”

I thought about the shy fourteen-year-old brainiac at a new school, desperate to win everyone’s approval of normalcy and escape the associations that had plagued her her whole life.  The things assumed about her just because she was smart and ambitious.

“Nerd,” I said.  “Goody-two-shoes.  Secret teacher’s pet.  Naïve fool.  Idiot buying into the system – ”

“Hey!”  The fold of skin between her eyebrows joined a heavy frown.  “Stop that.”

“Stop what?”  She frowned harder.  “Okay,” I relented.  “But it’s true.  I was wrong.  I was so wrong about everything.”

The gravity of that statement hung in the air for a few seconds.

*

We were touring colleges for my sister, but I was the one who had the epiphany at merely eleven years old.  On a beautiful July day in New Jersey, deciduous trees full in their greenery, gardens lush with color, I stood in the middle of Princeton’s campus, and I could see my life ahead with more clarity than I had ever seen anything before.  I saw myself lounging on the lawn, sun streaming lazily and laughter in the air.  I saw myself under one of the many casual arched tunnels between buildings, serenading my peers for fun with a brass quintet.  I saw myself wandering the gray paths to class on a wintery white day.  I left that day convinced that I would be back.  It was, after all, where I belonged.  It felt like home.

Everything I ever did was to get into Princeton.  Sure, I loved all the extracurriculars I did, but it certainly didn’t hurt that I was involved and leading so many, especially when put on a college resume.  But besides indulging in every after school activity that could possibly occupy my afternoons, I was hopelessly driven to excellence – no, superiority – by the idea that it was all for a singular purpose.  For Princeton.  I hadn’t known that I wanted to be a doctor since infancy or danced with the skill that could only lead to professionalism, or really known anything about what I wanted out of my future.  So when I found Princeton, it became my passion, my focus, my one thing that I carried with pride.  I funneled all of my energy and dreams and hopes into my vision, my idea, my master plan.

It’s cliché to say that I never once doubted that I would get in, but I really didn’t.  I absolutely believed in myself and my abilities and my intelligence and my unparalleled connection to the school to get me in.  So in that condition there was nothing that could have prepared me for the rejection that stabbed me to the core of my being.  For seven years, I had fought like hell to earn my place at the top, to be perfect just like Princeton wanted me to be for them.  For seven years, I had weaved my future attendance at Princeton into my identity so flawlessly and so intensely that when that reality was ripped from me, I didn’t feel like a person anymore.  I certainly didn’t even know where to begin to figure out who I was going to be from then on.

I wish I hadn’t been so caught up in a preconceived notion of where I was supposed to go and who I was supposed to be.  I wish someone had sat me down and asked me if I was doing all of it for the right reasons.  The absolutely terrifying thing is that I would have said yes.  I would have wholeheartedly said yes, that Princeton was where I was meant to be, where I wanted to be.  And maybe that was true at some point, but things changed, life happened, and a mess of reality got in the way.  And I’m glad it did: I don’t know who I would be at this point without it, I don’t know if I would have realized these things about myself, or if they would even exist as part of me.

My whole life I have felt important.  Special.  I grew up under the impression that I was meant to do great things.

I have always felt too big for this town (for any of the towns I have grown up in).  I thought that I had found a city that was big enough for me – I’m certainly big enough for it – but what I didn’t realize what just because it was big enough didn’t make it right enough.

I am big in my own way and I miscalculated which way that was.

In a society that judges net worth and future success based on academic intelligence…is it crazy of me to decide that I want to be looked at (not judged) based on a different criteria?  Especially after I’ve demonstrated that I’m fully capable of riding the system to safety?

*

What I hate myself for is that I can’t stop.  I can’t let go of this notion of myself at an Ivy League school and receiving an Ivy League education and making Ivy League friends and graduating with an Ivy League diploma and living an Ivy League lifestyle.  I just can’t stop.  I created a new commonapp profile to start my transfer application to NYU – the school I know I want to go to, the one I know is right for me – and still I couldn’t help but wonder if I could get in on the second time around, and I added Brown to my list of schools.  No!  I can catch myself and delete the evidence, but I can’t stop myself from feeling this way.  I can’t erase this idea from my head.  I fear I will never be able to stop conceiving of myself in this way.  But now I know what I want, and I know where I want to be, and I know that an acceptance letter from NYU won’t magically fix everything that’s wrong with my life and make all of these feelings go away, but I’d like to think it’s a damn good step in the right direction.

In Another World, Written 2/8/2015

If it were the other way around, how would things be different?  How would my life be unfolding at this very moment?  Would I be up late with Marisa, teasing with her hallmates?  Would I be over in Spencer’s with Gillian, Courtney, and Sammi?  Would I be sound asleep in my spacious dorm room with all of my decorations up and not falling off the walls?  Would I be consumed with the ‘what if’ of the other half of my potential life like I am now (4 am on a Saturday night)?

I want to think that the answer is yes.  I want to think that it’s yes with all the power of the dark thoughts that swirl in my head, all the regret and frustration that plague my steps day to day.  I would like to think that I would have teared up an equal amount of times, but that it took the shape of a tickling rain and not a firestorm.  Maybe my lungs would be filled with more smoke and city chemicals, but less with the broken dreams of expectations and miscommunications.

I’d like to think I’d be happy.

The truth has to be that there would have been nothing to hold me back.  That I would occasionally let my mind drift to a brick laden campus on the inaccessible outskirts of a professional and stuffy city, but that the image would dissolve as quickly as it had come because I would have known all along that it just wasn’t right for me.  And now all I want to do is scream because the mirage of the school filled with violet and skyscrapers is glued to my frontal lobe and it mocks me every time I open my eyes but especially when I fall asleep and it just isn’t fair and I hate myself for it.  I hate myself for being too scared to take the plunge and trust in my heart, and I hate myself for caring so much about what other people thought.  Why did I do it? None of them mattered!  Everyone I knew would never see me again, and if anyone I didn’t know judged me based off it then they didn’t deserve to get to know me anyway!

But most of all I can’t forgive myself for thinking that I could play it safe and still find happiness.  I thought I knew myself better by now.  I thought I knew that the only shot I have at happiness is chasing something with every particle of stardust in my soul.  And I let myself down.