with the last of my college decisions quickly approaching, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the disillusion that the past eighteen years of my life has built up to the next few hours. for years, i had no idea what path i wanted in life and, in all my naiveness, still grasped onto the faint thread of hope that it would somehow end up being the right one. of course, there was always a je-ne-sais-quoi appeal to the road less taken, and even in my most prolonged moments of self-doubt, the prospect of breaking new ground made the uphill battle seem worthwhile.
but was it really worth it? while brushing interpersonal skills and messaging strangers on facebook (in a totally non-creepy way, ofc), i’d neglected some of the most important relationships in my life, taking them for granted. while meticulously planning for the all-too-important future, my life became less and less dimensional until it folded neatly into a 64-page schedule book – downsides i’m readily aware of, but unwilling to admit. after all, i’ve worked way too hard only to feel even more anxious, alienated, and insecure…right?
the morning of february 19, i somehow received my first acceptance. i remember rolling over like a banana slug to the sound of the toaster going off, yanking the charger cord off my phone and scrolling through my gmail app until the sudden “i am delighted to inform you” bomb landed. unexpected as it was, there was no screaming, no sobbing, maybe some yelling to call over my parents – but that was it. the next few days were a whirlwind of firm handshakes with every teacher i’d ever made eye-contact with, watching my parents restrain themselves from telling the entire family tree, and then inevitably skyping said relatives after three hours. i was happy because everybody else was.
once the initial exhilaration had passed, i began noticing the void where a college acceptance had warranted to fill. on my computer was a ticket to a great school, more than i’d realistically hoped for and certainly ideal in my family’s eyes, but my heart had unconsciously rolled over to anticipating the next best thing. thinking back, it wasn’t humility that’d maintained my surface deadness. it was my penchant for apathy, to deem joy as a byproduct of complacency, that had backfired. yes – i had the emotional range of a teaspoon.
for our generation, feelings like these are commonplace. nowadays, commitment seems like a double-edged sword. we dissattach ourselves from the present and minimize the risk of being hurt, only to find bleached emotions when we’re most desperate for them. even in an age of the rampant tortured-artist aesthetic, with the word ‘anxiety’ paraded on pastel-colored shirts and sylvia plath poetry set to blackbear music, we non-empaths are far from displaying our vulnerabilities. by tuning the norm to emptiness, we exclude ourselves from the taxing process of emoting. perhaps, we embrace cookie-cutter feelings because we are scared of our own.
one month after that likely letter, i was rejected from mit. the unsurprising news hit me like a jagged stone nevertheless, but refusing to open the letter for almost the entire day had blunted its edges. with a 16-hour hiatus for emotional preparation, i’d been drained of disappointment by the time my gut-feeling had reified.
i slept. for a long time. then, i woke up, looked at the mirror and prided myself on not having puffy eyes. the day drifted by without paying much attention to my surroundings, as i filled my time with pointless conversations and episodes of “girls”. after dinner, my mom handed me her ipad open on a typical chicken-soup-for-the-soul article about failure, and asked me to read it out loud. i got to the fourth line, recited something i now have no recollection of, and burst out crying.
in hindsight, my tears weren’t for any specific school – not mit, not anywhere. i cried because i was finally allowing myself grief, and it felt cathartic. i cried because i could, and all of my hiccups and wrinkled tissues celebrated that. i was heartbroken, yes, but because i had tried – foolishly, unabashedly, utmostly. most of all, i was thankful that this long and toiling process, however flawed as it may be, could unravel so many threads from an eighteen-year-old.
the past almost-two decades have not only built up to the next few hours, but the days, weeks, and years beyond that. they’ve brought me to the realization that the interest rate on happiness is too low to save up, but also that it’s okay to be empathetic to ourselves. kiss or cry, it won’t be the two-page application outlining oh-so-impressive prestigious achievements that i’ll carry forth from tomorrow, or the promise of clout in an impressive degree, but the knowledge that i had kept my mind/heart open and allowed myself to be seen – by parents, teachers, essay-editors, and total strangers across the sea – and that, in and of itself, is self-confidence if i ever knew it.
so good-night, everyone – i can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings us. ❤
– a very teaspoon-partial lucy