In May, I will walk across a stage, shake a few hands, and receive a piece of paper I have worked for 4 years to get...
That's right-in just a few short months I will graduate with a Bachelor's of Science. But not just any ol' Bachelor's...oh no, no, no. I will graduate as a part of the Honor's Program, Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society, the Order of Omega, and the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. To top it all off, I will graduate with above a 3.8, or Magna Cum Laude. Seems like I should be proud of myself, right? All my years of hard work finally paying off and coming to an end-I should be dancing in the streets celebrating! But, I'm not. Nor do I plan to.
During my 4 years here, I have been incredibly involved around campus. I have served as the PR Chair, Vice-President, and President of my major's student organization. I interned for the Greek Affairs office, which allowed me to redesign our Greek Week events and even recreate a student organization on campus-of which I now serve as the advisor. For 2 years I volunteered as a part of the student move-in/welcome crew before landing the job with the First Year Program department as the Welcome Week Coordinator for campus. Along with that job, I serve as the President of the newly created student organization through the First Year office. I rushed with the Phi Delta Theta chapter here on campus the spring of my sophomore year. In that time since, I have had the fortune of holding the positions of House Manager (the guys STILL call me "Mom") and the PR Chairman. With my fraternity, I have attended a leadership conference and a recruitment conference across the nation. I even made the decision to replace a typical Spring Break experience with the United Way's Alternative Spring Break experience-a week of community service and giving back with other students from around the nation. P.S.-Biloxi, MS-you will forever hold a part of me from that trip.
I have been asked to be a part of so many student panels and advisory boards that I can't even keep track of them all. Faculty and students constantly tell me what a "leader" I am or how much they look up to me. I receive so many "friend requests" and "follows" from younger students on campus, just so they can message me to tell me how awesome I am or how they hope to one day do as much as I have done. My parents talk about my accomplishments and how I have made them so proud to everyone around them-sometimes I feel like strangers know more about me than I know myself.
Does it seem like I'm bragging? "What a dick. This guy is pretty full of himself," you're thinking as you read this. That's ok. In fact, that's what I want. I want you to see what all I have done with my life to land me here. I want to show you how, since I was in high school, I have followed Steps A-Z to align my life in this way. I want you to see just how much stress I have placed on myself...and I want you to know one important thing:
I am not happy.
That's right-I am not happy with my life. People who know me seem to think I just wake up with a smile on my face, start my day with a nice big shit of rainbows and piss out happiness, and whistle my way through my "awesome" life. People come to me when they want a smile, a laugh, or just to feel good about themselves. They think I have it all together. They are dead wrong.
Do any of you know what it feels like to not sleep well in months because you're terrified to dream? Do you know what it's like to have nightmares of standing onstage at graduation and being asked, "What are you doing after all this with your life?" and NOT being able to respond? I have cried myself to sleep exactly 6 times in the last 4 weeks. And, I have woken up with tears flowing down my cheeks exactly 11 times in the last 4 weeks.
For the first time in my life, I am lost. While others are making plans for graduate school or lining up jobs, I am sporadically searching the almighty Google for any answers to my life. Perhaps some of you can relate to recent searches:
* How can I get paid to travel?
* What language should I learn to work abroad?
* How to become a model
* How to become a PLUS SIZE model
* Personal trainer certification
* How much does a personal trainer make?
* What are some signs I'm becoming an alcoholic?
* How does one get a reality TV show?
* Can I make money dancing on the Ellen DeGeneres show?
As you could imagine, my search for any kind of answer to my life has come up void. Going out and getting drunk to forget my stress has led to about as many answers as falling on my knees in prayer, begging for some sort of sign. (Although, to clarify, I am apparently not at an alcoholic state, yet. Thank you for that, at least, Google.) I have skipped class more in this semester than all other 6 combined. I have purposely not turned in assignments because I "could not care any less about what grade I get." This is not who I am. I was never raised around alcohol, and certainly never raised to believe getting plastered to forget about the world for a moment was an answer to problems. I was the guy who lived and breathed school. Education was my passion. I was always the prepared one, the one with a clear direction and the drive to make it happen. Somewhere along the way, though, I must have taken a wrong turn.
I am SO sick of hearing people tell me, "It'll all work out. Just trust in the process!" Really? You mean to tell me that you honestly sat back and just let life "sort itself out," while you were along for the ride? No. Of course you didn't. No one does that. You went out, found your passions, and worked hard to get to where you are. Which leads to my next pet peeve of a question: "What do you want to do in life? What will make you happy?" Don't you think if I knew, I would be pursuing that? I used to have dreams, lots of them. I had passions and desires, talents and strengths. But somehow, I gave those up. I switched out my "crazy" ideas for the ones society told me I should have.
But what do I do? I am so far down that road that anytime I turn to find a familiar place, I can't. I don't KNOW what I want out of life anymore. As pathetic and stupid as that sounds, I don't. I have 0 ideas that I look at and think, "Maybe THIS one is it!" I'm scared. I'm lost. I am not me.
My life feels like a very weird image that I'm about to paint for you:
I have been sent into a massive, empty warehouse and told to explore and do with it as I wish! Naturally, I decide to head off from the doors I already know-the Where I Am door and the Where I Want To Be door. I have wandered farther and farther into the warehouse, learning as much about the big open space as I can. Suddenly, I find myself at a corner. I turn to head back, when I discover the empty space has been filled with a maze of supplies, offices, racks, etc. I am trapped in the farthest place possible from the doors I once knew. I'm lost. I don't know how to get back. Someone starts approaching me, and promises to help me find my way back if I just agree to let them help. "Ok," I say. Obviously it's a good idea, right? Wrong. They break both my legs, tell me to find a new door by myself because my old doors are ridiculous and not sensible, and then steal all my money. Broke, scared, and feeling defeated, I drag myself to a door labeled Good Enough. "Here goes nothing," I tell myself, "at least it's a safe option."
Seems a little dramatic, right? Yea, probably so. But it's precisely how I am feeling. I have no idea what direction I could head that would bring me back to my Where I Want To Be door. The other day, my mom looked at me and asked, "Aaron, what are your dreams? What do you want to do that would excite you and bring happiness to you?" I froze. It was honestly the most terrifying question I had been asked in a long time. No, not because it was my mom questioning me, or because I wanted to blurt out some horrible answer that would break her heart, but because I had no idea. I could not identify an area that I feel I am capable enough to perform in while simultaneously bringing me joy. And that, dear reader, is where I began to rip apart at the seams.
For so long, I had believed I had potential and was able to conquer my goals simply by staying true to myself. But, something happened through high school and college: I began to listen to what others said about me. Every little, "You're not good enough," chipped away at me. All the scoffs at what I hoped to accomplish, all the, "Yea, but what's your backup," comments, all the times I apparently overestimated my talents; all of those tore down my dreams until I looked in the mirror one day and said, "Settle." And with that one word, I lost my self.
Do NOT make the mistakes I did. LEARN from me.
I had the chance not once, not twice, but THREE times to study abroad. Every time, I said, "No." I couldn't waste my scholarships on an expedition that wouldn't count towards my degree at all. I had a plan and limited finances-I couldn't deviate from those. Studying abroad did not seem important to me. Until I die, I believe this will be my biggest regret in life. Screw what your advisor tells you. Forget about the price tag. Don't pay attention to what you'll study over there. Just go for it. Live that experience-try on a new culture! Trust me-you'll never get the chance to visit another place for such an extended period of time for such a cheap cost.
I had a hectic schedule nearly every semester. Yet, every single time someone came to me and asked to join something, help out this cause, yada yada yada, I couldn't say no. I became so involved that I wasn't giving myself fully to things I was involved in. They were lucky to get 50% of my best, if that. Don't-I repeat-DO NOT get over-involved. You're bombarded the moment you step on campus with people telling you, "GET INVOLVED! YOU HAVE TO BE INVOLVED!" Yea, they're right to an extent. Get involved...in 1-2 organizations that you genuinely care about and focus on those. This isn't high school where the more you have on a resume, the better you look. This is college, where someone would rather see you were a part of a fraternity with an officer position and helped at the homeless shelter every week. Do NOT try to beef up your resume by joining every freaking thing out there like I did-limit yourself and you limit your stress.
Probably the most important thing I can tell you is: stay true to yourself. Don't let the opinions of others begin to change you. Don't give up on a dream you have simply because the people around you are too small-minded to understand it. Don't go down a path that you won't know how to get off of if you find it's not the right one for you. You know yourself better than anyone else, so why would you ever let someone else try to tell you who you should be? It's ok to be super confident. It's ok to be incredibly scared. It's ok to ask for help, or to try things on your own. However you do you best, do it. What's NOT ok is to be too afraid to try.
I don't know where I'll be in a year.
I have no idea where I'll be living or what I could possibly be doing. Maybe I'll be living in Brazil teaching English to 2nd graders. Maybe I'll be pursuing graduate studies at some coastal university. Maybe I'll be one of the new "Try Guys" for Buzzfeed (which, by the way, if any of you have that hookup, I'll give you my LinkedIn account and make a 2-minute video of why I'd be perfect for that...just a hint). But all of those future ideas are simply that: a maybe.
Right now-I am lost. I am scared of where my life has gone. I've lost a lot of who I once was, but gained a lot of who I am now. I'm not writing this for any sympathy. I don't want your, "Oh, I'm so sorry! Keep your chin up," comments. All I want...all I need...is to know that someone, somewhere out there feels this same way. I can't be alone in this, can I? I just need to know that it's ok to be completely unsure of yourself at 22. I just need to know that I have not completely lost myself-that somewhere inside of me, my dreams have stored themselves and are waiting to come back.
I am not me. But, I am not giving up.