When I was three years old, I started taking ice skating lessons. I was pretty good at it, almost a natural, really, but I still remember that when my instructor told my class to fall on purpose, I refused to do it. Why would I do that when I can just keep skating? Falling can hurt a lot. It seemed ridiculous to me. It turned out that my instructor wanted us to learn how to fall so we can learn how to recover and pick ourselves back up. Still, I hated the idea of falling—regardless if it was intentional or not.
I’ve always been a very cautious, very calculating person. I still embrace that attitude from that little girl who refused to fall while wearing her ice skates to this day. I’ve always planned ahead on what to study in high school, what extracurriculars to participate in, and what the best essay topic for the Common App will be so that I could build the perfect high school resume and get into the best college reasonably possible for me. However, it wasn’t until I started my freshman year of college that I learned the importance of taking risks and reaching out to others.
I should preface that this wasn’t a revelation I had made on my own, I’ve been told I should do these things for most of my life: “It’s okay, Olivia, have fun! Enjoy your time with your friends! Please don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders, it’s okay—healthy, even—to reach out for help when you need it!” But throughout my life, I insisted on doing things my way, my eyes always on the target, and never losing sight of what I’m working on. Allow nothing and no one to distract me.
When I started college, after my world had already turned upside down, I didn’t anticipate the possibility that sometimes I’d find myself in a situation where I really have no idea what I’m doing… which ended up happening a lot. “How come I’m suddenly so indecisive about what I want to study in college? How can I socialize with people in a safe way during COVID? Why is it suddenly so hard to write for school when I’ve thought I’ve always been good at it? Why on earth did I think it was a good idea to enroll in a computer programming class when I had a 101-degree fever?” (Yes, that last question was actually based on a true story, but that’s a story for another time…)
Starting college is hard enough, but starting college in the middle of a pandemic is unfathomable unless you experience it yourself. I had the privilege of starting college in person when I know countless others had to study remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic; in spite of this, I had never felt so distressed and withdrawn. Yes, I made some wonderful friends my first semester of college whom I hope to continue to grow and live crazy experiences with for the rest of my college career, but I had never felt so lonely and confused even though I’m a student at a college that preaches making connections with your peers. I had also never realized—or maybe it was never so apparent to me—that there was so much I needed to work on both as a student and as a friend.
However, that’s the beauty of college: it teaches you just as much outside the classroom as it does inside the classroom. The phrase “give it the good old college try!” exists for a reason; you should try to do everything with your best effort possible, and even when you make mistakes, there’s always a chance for you to pick yourself back up, whether you do it on your own or somebody helps you. You are not a failure as a student if you need to email your professor and request to attend their office hours, nor are you weak if you’re going through a hard time and need to rant to a friend, even if you’ve only known each other for a few months or even a few weeks, just as long as you trust them.
And that’s another thing, trust. It’s come to my attention recently that it is just as important to trust yourself to open up as it is to trust the people you choose to surround yourself with. I’ve been bruised throughout my life because of some toxic friendships, which has made me become a closed book. But, the most personal growth happens when you decide to be vulnerable with others and put yourself out there. There are some friendships I have from last semester that I realize could possibly be stronger by now if I opened myself up a little more to them or at least more outwardly expressed how much I appreciate them. Fear has stepped in my way each time. Now, more than ever, it’s important to reach out to friends and loved ones because chances are that when you feel lonely navigating life in the midst of a pandemic, others are feeling the same way. You also know you have a good friend in your life when even if you haven’t talked to them in a while, if you’re going through a rough patch, you could reach out and explain that you need to talk and act like you saw each other yesterday.
By the time I learned that lesson last semester, I thought it was too late for me to utilize it my freshman year, because right before I had learned that first-years at Kenyon were supposed to study remotely for the spring semester. However, I was fortunate enough to have my petition approved to stay on campus for the spring semester this year. I decided to give myself a chance to start over and take that lesson I learned last semester and apply it to this semester. After all, even though I was going to be living in the same dorm building (the infamous Caples Hall!) I would have to start the friend-making process all over again.
My mom has always told me that the most growth happens outside of your comfort zone. Being vulnerable in front of others is immensely uncomfortable, but it’s how some of the best friendships/relationships are forged and the most interesting memories are made. Practically one of the requirements of being a college student is that you (hopefully, safely) take chances whether it’s taking a class on a subject you’ve always been curious about, exploring new places with friends, trying different clubs, or being the first person to text that person you just met in class and ask them if they want to grab a cup of coffee with you. Embracing your curiosity to try new things or put yourself out there is liberating because you’ll never know where it will take you unless you take a chance on yourself.
If it wasn’t for this bizarre freshman year, I don’t think I would have realized these lessons. I don’t think I would have started auditioning again for shows on campus, or written for magazines like Her Campus, or attended rush week at a sorority without realizing that if you have skin in the game you stay in the game (the ”game” being opportunities, at least). Most importantly, I don’t think I would have gotten to know the wonderful, dynamic friends I’ve made—friends who challenge my point of view and encourage me to put myself out there—without confronting my past and deciding to be vulnerable again.
I still hate falling (then again, I don’t think anyone likes falling), but at least I know how to pick myself back up again while continuing to embrace taking risks because of the lessons I’ve (so far) learned from the most bizarre freshman year.