In high school, I was told that college would be a time when I say goodbye to my teenage-angst phases—a time when I would finally mature and develop into the adult world. More importantly, I was also told that college was a sacred place where I would eventually find myself and my “true path.” In fact, by the time I was a senior in high school, teachers were already pushing me and my classmates to think about where we see ourselves in five years. Ten years. Twenty years. I was bombarded with questions about my future that I simply could not answer. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that goals, and the willingness to pursue them, are what fundamentally drive success. But at 18 years old, I could not believe I was expected to know exactly what career I wanted to pursue, what city I would eventually live in, what kind of house I would eventually own, and so on. Power to the people who do know the answers to these questions at that age because I certainly did not.
So, when the time came – at the end of my senior year – to write down the future of my life on paper, I threw away the prompt. Being the rebellious teenager that I was, what I wrote instead was why I should not know what the future holds in store for me because who actually does? Whatever the future decided to dish out to me, I only knew one thing for sure: I wanted to be happy.
…It is so easy to compare ourselves to others.
Three years later, I am now entering my senior year of college. A lot has happened throughout these years and I have grown and changed as a person beyond anything I could have ever predicted when I was eighteen. I guess my teachers were somewhat right about us maturing into adulthood. While, I must admit, I have still maintained most of my rebellious ways, if I were to be assigned the essay once more, what I’d write would not change one bit. I still don’t have a clue as to what I am doing with my life. I have not found myself yet, nor have I found my path. For a while, that scared me. But not anymore.
I have learned that it is so easy to compare ourselves to others. In college, everyone seems to have a set path, whether that be pre-med, pre-law, business, communications, engineering, and so forth. I developed anxiety and high-functioning depression because of the constant comparisons and thoughts sprinting through my brain at full speed. My friends all know what they want to do, who they want to become… why don’t I? It made me feel like I had no purpose. Throughout my junior year of college, I felt so lost, stuck, and unsure about myself and my future that I reached a point where I could not remember the last time I felt truly happy—quite the opposite of what I wrote my senior year of high school.
Changes needed to be made. It would take time, and it would not be easy, but I knew that I could not keep living the way I had been. I had to let go and accept the uncertainties of my future. Rather than attempting to figure out a career pathway as soon as possible, I decided to choose happiness as the first and foremost path to pursue. I took a step back, took a deep breath, and submersed myself in as many self-care rituals as I could until Zen practically became my middle name. I exercised more. I reignited old passions such as volleyball, reading, and writing. I even dabbled with meditation, which was very unlike me to do. I was prepared to make changes.
All of these things helped but the most important thing that I did was utilize mental health care provided by my university. I made an appointment for wellness coaching. This wasn’t the first time I’ve made such an appointment— I’ve sought help from them before, but at that time, I don’t think I was truly ready to make the changes I needed to make to be happy again. This time, I was. The best thing I took out of that meeting was how amazing it felt to simply talk about how I was feeling. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated, like this huge weight was finally lifted off my shoulders. By no means was I “cured,” but I realized I cannot keep my feelings bottled up if I would ever be happy again. My wellness coach encouraged me to keep my loved ones close and tell them how I am feeling. And that’s precisely what I did. The more I talked, the better I felt. Slowly, yet suddenly, I realized something I like to call a game-changing epiphany: I am not alone. And if I do what makes me happy, everything will fall into place.
…I was prepared to make changes.
If all of this seems easy at a glance, it wasn’t. And the hardest part of all was letting go of comparisons in a society that feeds off of Instagram likes and crazy Snapchat stories #aboutlastnight. Sure, one can easily say “just stop comparing yourself to others,” but life is just not that easy and never that simple. I had to separate my true self from what I thought I needed to be – in other words: what the comparisons were telling me I should be. How did I do this? I’m not sure I can pinpoint an exact formula, but I can tell you that it was a constant battle within myself every day that I had to really work at and focus on. I kept up with my self-care and whenever I felt that I was comparing myself to others, I took a step back and thought of ten things I was thankful for in that particular moment. That part wasn’t hard. We lose ourselves in our comparisons so much that we forget how wonderful and beautifully complex each individual life is. Once I realized this, I could see my path to happiness so clearly. I still compare myself, but I can truthfully say it does not consume my life anymore.
I’m pursuing happiness, and I hope everyone who reads this does too. The path to happiness is different for everyone, but that is what makes life so incredibly interesting. I want those who feel the way I did to know that it’s OK not to have a plan for the future and it’s also OK to know exactly what you want to do in life. Call me cliché, but the world is our oyster and life is too short to live under constant anxiety. I am excited to make mistakes, take risks, create, explore, and find my passion. Are you?