I was raised in the suburbs by a traditional, nuclear family. Early on, my life was defined by clear-cut social norms and expectations – my mother cooked and ran the household while my father worked and mowed the lawn, and every Sunday we attended church with hundreds of other families identical to us. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this (or any) lifestyle; but it was all I knew, and so I romanticized it. I was convinced I would marry my high school sweetheart, have children before 25, and then dedicate the rest of my life to my family. Even the idea of getting a college degree seemed obsolete given the life I planned to lead, though I enjoyed and succeeded in academia.
My mother had had a successful career before my birth, though, and spent much time encouraging me to be independent from everyone, including my family, at least once in my life. The idea was ridiculous to me – I knew what I wanted out of life, I assured her. Then high school came and went; I had no sweetheart to speak of, I grew out of romanticizing others’ lives, and I decided that my love of learning deserved to be explored before I settled down. I accepted my offer of admission to Virginia Tech, and haven’t looked back since.
This, however, came with its own set of challenges; I’d fought my mother for years on the importance of being independent, and, truthfully, relied on her very much throughout my life. My mother stayed home to tend to her family, and she did such a great job that, at 18 years old, I was practically incapable of surviving on my own – I couldn’t drive a car, I hadn’t worked a day in my life, and I eyed the washing machine with both contempt and confusion. Foolishly, I’d missed the essence of independence. It wasn’t just entering higher education and then the workforce, and, consequently, I lacked the skill set required to sustain myself. Even living on campus my freshman year, I evaded every one of those tasks (I even brought my laundry home for my mother to do). Every time I visited my family, my mother voiced her concerns: “I’m worried about you… I’m worried about how you’ll survive on your own,” she pleaded with me. And every time, without fail, I’d scoff and grow defensive, and an argument would ensue.
Little did she know, I had extreme anxiety over the most menial of tasks, and was simply afraid to try. It was a source of shame for me, that I wasn’t as competent as everyone else seemed to be, but I dug myself into that hole and refused to climb out of it, even when my parents gave me a ladder.
Shortly after my 19th birthday, my family decided that enough was enough and I had to learn to be independent, for my own good. I stuffed all of my belongings into a studio apartment in Blacksburg and sat among the moving boxes for weeks, trying my best to figure out the basics of survival. At first, I was angry; they’d cut me off financially, and I was struggling to both make and manage money. I felt extremely unprepared for this new life and resented my parents and my upbringing because of it. I’d convinced myself that I was and would always be incapable of independence, just as I’d convinced myself at 14 that I wasn’t capable of obtaining my driver’s license. Permanently moving five hours away from home left me feeling vulnerable, and for nearly a month, I sat in my bug-infested, cheap studio and felt sorry for myself.
But then, something changed. Maybe it was my quickly-dwindling bank account or my imminent hunger, but I realized that I owed it to myself to at least try. My first job was dishwashing, and I had such anxiety about it that I called out on my first day. I forced myself into the kitchen the next day and realized that having a job wasn’t as hard as I’d made it out to be in my head. Then, I got a second job as a hostess (I was too intimidated to be a waitress), and when I’d gotten over my initial anxiety, I asked to be a waitress. Then, I faced my almost 6-year long fear of driving, and I got my license. The more money I made, the less I had, as I continued to add on to my financial responsibilities with car insurance payments and gas. I began cooking, cleaning, and doing my laundry out of habit. My days were suddenly packed with things I had to accomplish, and when I did so, I felt a sense of pride I’d never experienced before. Independence had changed my mindset; I realized that I was capable of everything I’d previously thought was impossible, and even more. I’d been so afraid to try that I hadn’t considered the possibility that I wouldn’t fail.
My relationship with my family improved drastically following this epiphany. The last time I saw my parents, I could sense their pride in me. In jest, my mother told me that she was no longer worried about me needing her; she was more scared that I never would again.
Becoming independent at a young age has been quite the journey for me, but it has made me a better, happier, well-rounded person who knows that, though her plans for her future may change frequently, she is going to succeed in whatever she chooses to do. Sharing this story was difficult and a moment of vulnerability for me, but I am doing so in the hopes that a young girl like me will see it and realize that her options are only limited if she believes they are. We are capable of anything we set our minds to; we are resilient.