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Cameron Smith-Cacti Blue Sky
Cameron Smith-Cacti Blue Sky
Cameron Smith / Her Campus
The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

I don’t think I would be friends with the version of myself from four years ago. 

I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to be all self-love and acceptance, protecting my “inner child” and all that. But the fact of the matter is, I wouldn’t want to be friends with my freshman year self. As a college senior, six days out from graduating, I might love her from afar, but likely couldn’t stand to be in a room with her. 

I wouldn’t be able to stand her style, for one. Way too many microtrends haunted my closet. I wouldn’t be able to stand her obsession with grades or her immaculate note-taking, highlighters and sparkly tape and all. I wouldn’t be able to stand her obsession with grilled cheeses or her boyfriend. 

But the big reason I would avoid the version of me from four years ago is because of her complete and utterly-soul crushing lack of confidence. I would go crazy if I had to listen to her go on and on about the man she’s settling for, the friends that don’t treat her well. The nervousness she felt simply going to the communal bathrooms in her dorms. Really–you tried on three different outfits for brushing your teeth the first night in the dorms? Really? 

No. I would end up slapping her within 30 minutes. And is that a bad thing?  

Women are walking precariously on a tightrope hundreds of feet above ground, forever teetering between being “too” confident and not confident enough. 

On one side, the drop from the tightrope is filled with prickly and pointed remarks (I picture them as cacti) about being egotistical, self-obsessed, b*tchy, bossy–I could go on. 

On the other side is an abyss of self-doubt and insecurity that will take over your entire body and soul and mind. 

So we walk the tightrope, often in shoes that give us bleeding blisters or squeeze our toes too tight, trying to maintain a level of confidence and self perception that is not too much to intimidate the men and women around us, but that isn’t so low that it controls our entire being. 

My freshman year self fell off the tightrope into the self-doubt abyss a couple of weeks into her college career. Down there, you can’t see your hands two feet in front of you. The murky darkness clouds everything–your judgment, your perception of yourself and others, your ability to decide what’s important in life, and what really isn’t. 

I don’t doubt myself now. I can barely remember what such severe self-doubt feels like. But I don’t think I ever got back on the tightrope. 

I didn’t bother even trying to climb back up. I just wandered over to the prickly, “too” confident side. And let me tell you–I’m doing just fine. 

In our spiky, nettlesome paradise, I found I was not alone. I found women who had fallen off the tightrope years ago and had made a peaceful life for themselves among the cacti. College professors. Yoga instructors. My grandma. Random women in the grocery store. The girl I sat next to in my business French class, who’s in high school but is better at French than 90% of the people in my class and isn’t afraid to show it. You can kind of just tell who’s down here with you. 

I found women I had looked up to for years–and yet somehow, I was surprised they were down here among the needles with me too. Distant friends from high school. Girls I met in college who I was never too close with, but I always thought they were effortlessly cool. 

And, I found women that I love that made the journey with me. We didn’t know it, but we were all making our way to the thorny side of the tightrope at the same time. 

My friends I used to play fairies with on the playground, make music videos with in middle school, and still talk to everyday–all of them have made it to the prickly side. It’s why our friendship survives. We’re a group of women spread across the country instead of across the neighborhood now. But they know their worth, and they aren’t afraid to speak up for themselves, and while insecurities persist, they all are so much more than their worst inner thoughts. We walk among our own thorns and bristles and only get to see each other a couple of times a year, but it’s comforting knowing they’re here with me. One has a job in Washington D.C. One’s considering moving to London. They have their own needles. But they’re down here with me. 

My best friend, I think, just jumped off the tightrope and straight into the cacti. She took a leap of faith and now will not take sh*t from anyone–including myself. Band-aids are scattered across her legs from the fall, but I don’t think she regrets it. 

My sister has been down here for years. I don’t know how she got down here, but from the moment she figured out the words to voice her opinion (which is often right), she made herself comfortable. 

I’ve met women for the first time down here, as well. My friends I met while abroad all had their own journey down from the tightrope, and while I wasn’t there for their falls, I was there for the after product–women with their heads held high who are not scared to wield their intelligence like a sword and shield. Women who have made sure I don’t climb back up to the tightrope, because they think the pricked version of me is worth preserving.  

Some people haven’t made it down from the tightrope yet. They are the ones who use the words “you’ve changed” like a weapon. 

The ones who are dangling from the tightrope, being held up by a boyfriend that doesn’t treat them right, wondering if it would be better to just let go. 

The ones who are grasping desperately to the tightrope with their arms and legs, angrily batting away the women in the cacti, terrified of what could happen to her if she didn’t have male validation to make her feel pretty. 

Most heartbreakingly, the ones who have fallen onto the other side of the tightrope, the nebulous and dark abyss of self-doubt. They’ll do anything they can to lash out at you, with their blinded eyes and nails bitten down to a stub, to bring you back across the tightrope line. For some of them, all you can do is watch and hope they realize one day that the thorns and intimidation of the prickly side are so much better than not facing any visible threats at all. For others, you stretch out your hand and pray they hold on tight. 

I’ve been told I’ve changed. I wear my curls down instead of styling them into whatever is popular on social media. I thrift clothes that look good on me, rather than what the girls on sorority row are wearing. I don’t limit myself to one activity or archetype. I condemn the idea that because I like feeling trickling water over my feet in a stream or sleeping under an open sky, I must be granola and can only wear flannels, beanies, and Chacos. I did all of these things for a period of time, in a desperate attempt to control how I was perceived by people whose opinions, at the end of the day, don’t really matter. They’re still on the tightrope. 

If I sat down with myself from four years ago, on our uncomfortable dorm bed that never looked quite like the Pinterest inspiration we’d wanted, she’d look me up and down and be in shock. 

You’ve changed, she’d say. We’ve changed. 

I’d think of the four years of living between me and her. Years of crying until it feels like you can’t breathe. Long solo road trips, singing by myself on the open road. Leaps of faith onto planes to different countries, classes that I’d never thought I’d like in a million years, activities that I’d been scared of my entire life. Days and nights filled with belly laughing with people I hadn’t yet met four years ago. Hours upon hours of writing. Phone calls with my dad, vlog videos to my friends across the country.  (Not enough) time spent sleeping, time spent awake. My entire college experience, all jumbled and stuffed into a memories-reel that I have with me in my home among the cacti–but in six days, I will no longer be living in. 

I know, I’d say. We’re supposed to.

Genevieve Andersen is the President of HCCU, as well as a co-Campus Coordinator. As President, she oversees the senior executive team, executive team, national partnerships, and assists with coordinating events. She manages meetings, recruitment, campus communications, and chapter finances and is one of HCCU's biggest fans. Since she joined the club in 2021, she has found a passion for writing on subjects like politics, law, feminism, environmental justice, and local features. Outside of HCCU, Genevieve is a senior at the University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in political science and French and minoring in journalism. Besides magazine writing, she has published and assisted with political science research, with her latest project involving international environmental policy being based in Geneva, Switzerland, where she worked with the United Nations Environmental Program and various European environmental NGOs. When she is not busy reading member's HCCU articles, you can find Genevieve on a ski or hiking trail, hanging out with her friends, playing with her dogs, or staring at her pet fish wishing he could be played with.