In my first semester of college, I sat down with an academic advisor to plan my future. I came in as a physics major, eager to map out my first move as a real college student. The advisor took one look at my transcript and said, “Oh, you’re from that high school? Kids from that school don’t do well here.”
Clearly I needed to prove this myopic stranger wrong. I made sure to enroll in all the hardest classes all at once. I signed up for Analytic Trigonometry, precalculus, chemistry, chemistry lab, French II and a lecture course called “Discovering Physics.” I wasn’t worried. I had this. No problem.
In the middle of the semester I withdrew from trig, chemistry, and chemistry lab. By the end I earned a C+ in French and outright failed pre-calculus. Beaten, I quit the physics program and went undeclared for spring.
After struggling through the spring semester, I dropped out of my university and transferred to the community college. There, I dragged myself through prerequisites for a couple of years. I achieved middling grades, resulting in an AA degree.
Eventually, because I had no money to leave the state for another college and no real interest in school at all, I opted to reapply to my old university. From there on, school crawled in with blur of D’s, C’s and mid-semester withdrawals. I changed my major so many times I lost count. Film, French–I threw psychology in the mix for a little bit—I was all over the board. (Somehow I even ended up with half of a religion minor.)
School was a grind. I dropped out again and again, thinking each time that it was for good. I hated my job, lived with my mom and drank an embarrassing amount of gin. I felt like a waste, a failure, totally not college material, and I heavily considered running away to a tourist town and working as a waitress for the rest of my life.
But by some cosmic interference, I finally found a major that fit me. For the first time in my life, I’m actually interested in the classes I’m taking, and while the program engages me creatively, it’s also practical enough that I have a real chance of finding a job later. Don’t get me wrong; I still have to force myself to go to class and do (most) of my homework. But I’m getting A’s, and I don’t totally hate it. I mean, I still kind of hate it, but definitely not as much.
And I’ve realized something important: I needed that time. I needed those extra years to mature, to “figure myself out” (a nauseating cliché, but true in my case). Sure, I still worry about my future. I still feel like maybe I’m just pretending to be an adult and I’ll never amount to anything and spend the rest of my life living with my mom. Listening to her talk to the cat. Telling me to clean my room. Telling me not to drink so much. Arguing about why the Long Island Medium isn’t a real psychic. But who doesn’t have those shower thoughts?
I guess my point is that it’s okay to fail; it’s okay to fail over and over again.
There is no government-sanctioned timeline for success. Your friends might all have grown up jobs. They might live in their own houses with substantial incomes, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaving you behind. If you compare yourself to others, you’re bound to fall short of your own expectations. It won’t help you graduate faster, it won’t help you get a better job and it won’t help you find out what’s best for you.
I say “you” because I’m talking to you, the reader—but I’m also talking to myself. I have just seven classes to go before I graduate, and I never thought I’d get this close. But here I am, a year away from that sweet, sweet diploma.
I tell you (and myself) that no matter how spotty and tragic your school life might be, no matter how many times you fail and change, stick with it. You will find your niche. You will find your path. And everything that happens along the way is, at worst, another chance to learn about yourself.
You are not alone. There are lots of us. And we’re all going to be okay.