Dear college students, here’s a word that I used to wish came with a trigger warning: change. Don’t scream, it’s not as scary as it needs to be. It’s not as knee quivering, soul-shattering, heartbreaking as I have always made it out to be. I hated it. I used to want to crumble it up, throw it on the ground, stomp on it and spit on it; the change was my arch-nemesis. The thing about change is that it doesn’t come alone. It comes in a goody bag with letting go, saying goodbye, putting yourself in new situations and the worst of the worst: the unknown. Who likes not knowing what the future holds? Absolutely not me.
Here’s what I have to say about my new relationship with change though: it’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I’m a very lucky girl for a few reasons. I moved to UCF last year with not only my best friend of six years but with my friend group that also went to our high school. As someone with social anxiety and a low social battery, I felt lucky that when I moved far from home, my people did too. I didn’t have to start totally new, struggle to make friends, or be alone. My freshman year was everything I could’ve asked for: movie nights, escape rooms, playing manhunt on campus, Friendsgiving and trips. No matter what it was we were doing, we did it together. Our friendship was what high school Abbi always dreamed of. She dreamed of friends that felt like family, friends that were unconditional and forever, and she finally got it.
Despite the fun we had and how happy we were in each other’s company, it soon became obvious that not all of us were happy at UCF itself. As fun as it is, college is expensive. It is draining and overwhelming and not for everyone. College brought us together, but it also tore us apart. Here’s where the c-word came into play. By spring semester, high school Abbi’s dream turned into a nightmare. There was talk of transferring to other colleges, leaving for the military and moving back home within the friend group. Spoiler alert, the talk became action. Everyone went their separate ways, and I spent every last second trying to convince them not to. I made pros and cons lists, wrote long paragraphs, guilt-tripped and used puppy-dog eyes until my eyes hurt. When nothing worked and reality rubbed its hands together and slapped me across the face, it hurt. The hurt came with anger at the people who left me after promising me forever. I was desperate to keep things the same by keeping everyone where they were.
It’s been over a year since I moved to college and months since my friends left, and here’s what came after the anger subsided. Happiness. Change is hard at first, but if nothing changes, nothing gets better. Here’s what I didn’t mention about my friends. We spent a lot of time loving each other, but we spent a lot of time-fighting each other too. There were things I was mad at people for, and I used to be really good at holding grudges. But with the news that soon one friend would leave for 6 years in the military, and three friends would be transferring, nothing mattered. Nothing mattered, but everything mattered. None of the drama or grudges mattered, all that mattered was being with them while I could and being there for them during their big changes. Here’s what I can thank change for; it led me to the epiphany that nothing matters other than how much you love someone, and how you reflect that love onto them. Change is both unpredictable and unforeseen. Change means that you have to appreciate what you have while you still have it.
Another thing about change is that it isn’t the end of the world like we always make it seem, we’re just dramatic. My friend group is still my friend group, even from miles away. When we get to talk, we treasure the conversations. When we get to see each other on rare occasions, it feels like Christmas morning to a 5-year-old. If you are scared of change, imagine taking something so ordinary in your regular every day, and having it suddenly feel like Christmas. Change is rude and scary and was once my arch-nemesis, but the change made my friend group feel like Christmas. How beautiful is it that not even actual Christmas feels like Christmas at our age, but seeing our best friends does? Even though our situation of all living next to each other was temporary, our friendship was not. Now it is just more special. I appreciate everything more and am glad to gain a new sense of gratitude.
My biggest lesson though is that college is our transition period. It’s our first time living alone, struggling with the bigger picture things and we are ever-changing right now. We’re trying to learn our place in this world, what we want to be when we’re older and who we want to be. That means we aren’t always going to get it right on our first try. We might not have chosen the right career path, the right major or even the right college on our first go around. With that being said, we have to embrace change. We have to embrace it with open arms and give it the greatest bear hug. If we don’t get it right the first time, we have to make changes to make our future better for us. These are the years that shape who we become later. We can’t let fear of the unknown stop us from living a beautiful future. More importantly, we have to support our friends when they make these important decisions, even if it hurts us at first. No matter how much it hurt me watching my friends pack their bags and wave goodbye to Orlando, nothing beats seeing the happiness reflected in their eyes now. When I see them in their new life, happiness radiates off of them more than I’ve ever seen before. The change was my arch-nemesis before, but it became my best friend the day I realized it gave my friends happiness and a sense of belonging. Friends want the best for each other, no matter how it affects them. Knowing that leaving UCF was the best for my friends’ careers and mental health is all I could ask for. They have the right to be selfish when it comes to their own life, and that took me time to learn.
Change is uncomfortable and painful, but we’re grown-ups now. We have to change. We have to step into our power and make the life we want to live. We have to do what’s scary to get to the goal. My friends might’ve forced me to face a lot of unwanted change when they moved away, but now I’m left with a new appreciation for the people in my life and a lot more happiness watching them be happy. For that, I owe a big thank you to change and everything that comes with it.