My first semester of college was so miserable I tried not to go back for a second.
I had a perfectly adequate high school experience. I had some friends, I didn’t get bullied, I got good grades, starring roles in school plays and a healthy supply of trophies from endless Saturday morning debate tournaments. But I didn’t date as much as a reasonably cute 16 year old thinks she ought to (although I would like to tell my teenage self that she’s got TWENTY TWO PLUS YEARS of dating ahead so um, let’s not worry about getting off the line too quickly there young lady) and I always felt like the other kids were having way, way more fun than I was. So I was convinced that college would be different, that I would be different. That going somewhere far away, where I didn’t know a soul, would change everything.
The reality is that building a brand new life is really freakin’ hard and I think it was day two before I was sobbing into the pay phone outside the student center (remember 1994?) and begging my mother to come and save me. She did not save me. I went to classes, I worked my weird job as an usher at the football games, I spent a lot of Friday nights watching “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” with my homebody roommates. I cried a lot and I was still pretty sure the other kids were having way, way more fun and that I was the world's only miserable college freshman.
I went home for Christmas and when the girl I was supposed to go back to school with ended up not having room in her car for me, I skipped the first week of classes and tried to figure out a way to drop out. As the week progressed through, I started to miss some things about college. Some of the freedom. A few of the interesting people that I had started hanging around with. The fact that the guys in college DID seem like maybe they could appreciate a girl like me.
By the end of the week, I had hitched a ride down to Cedar City with my grandparents and at the risk of romanticizing my collegiate experience, the next 3.75 years ended up being sort of magical. There were plenty of tears and disappointments-I still felt like I didn’t date enough-but there were friendships and experiences and romances that built a foundation for my adult life that I can still feel 16 years later.
It should come as no surprise then, that I also hated the first six weeks of my mission, the first three months of my first adult move to another state, the first three months of my second big adult move to yet another state, and basically the beginning of every new thing I ever decide to do.
Which brings me to today. In the fourth month of a new life, with a new job, and a new city.
I don’t hate it.
I did hate it though. I had a few weeks where I most definitely, absolutely, ask-my-mom-because-I-called-her-sobbing hated it.
I can still remember a distinct moment in my apartment in Cedar City, after things had fallen into place and I was feeling really good about everything, thinking to myself, “ok great, so I survived starting over and now I know how to do it. I will never feel that miserable again.”
Oh 18 year old me, you say such cute things. If you could only see 38 year old me with the covers pulled over my head, trying to figure out just what I could have been thinking to give up my PERFECT COLORADO LIFE to start ALL OVER with a big hard job in a big scary city where EVERYTHING COSTS ONE MILLION DOLLARS. Dramatic me tends to think in all caps.
This is the sixth time in my life that I have packed up everything I own and shown up in a brand new place. The sixth time. So I know how to find the Target. I know how to make new friends. I know how to make an apartment feel like home. What I do not know how to do, is skip over the part where it’s hard. I have not yet figured out how to skip the challenging part of growing.
Six months ago I knew I was coasting. I knew I was bored. So I hacked away at all the things that felt stagnant. Job. City. Personal life. It felt like the right thing to do. It was the right thing to do.
I just forgot how scary it is. How at the top of the cliff of a new life “stagnant” looks like “comfortable” and “bored” looks like “crushing it”. That when you make grand proclamations to the world about that new life, everyone kindly assumes that you are loving it and it is loving you and you can’t help but feel like something of a fraud for saying “yeah it’s rad!” when what you really want to do is run screaming back to the place that felt easy and forget this whole thing ever happened.
My new job is a terrific career move. I learn something new every single day and I’m having to work harder than I have in a long time. It has kicked my ass over and over but I’m starting to kick back and that is immensely satisfying. I am feeling like I can hang with this group of incredibly talented people. This new city is impersonal and unforgiving and there is nowhere to park and even small errands feel like a production. But is also beautiful and vibrant and I can go from seeing a band I love on Friday night to paddling in the ocean with friends the next morning. It’s a place I have dreamed of living for 12 years and even though the realities have caught up with the fantasy in many ways, in other ways it’s even better than I imagined.
But I want to be clear. I wanted to quit. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve had to remind myself over and over that the other kids are not having more fun than I am. That I am not the only one who wants to hide under the comforter when facing newness at every turn. It’s so nice in our super connected world that you can get cheers from all over the globe when you take on a challenge. But the flipside is that it can feel extra lonely when no one raises a hand to say “yikes you guys this is hard!” So, yikes you guys, this is hard.
I’ve never been sorry that I stuck out the hard part. The truth is the best things that have ever happened to me have sucked a little bit in the beginning. I guess it’s how I know I better hang on.