I started writing this on a plane headed to my 10 year college reunion in Chicago . . . by myself - which seems rather appropriate because that is the way I spent most of my time in college. As I headed back to Northwestern University with a single football ticket in my purse and a suitcase full of outfit options, I was filled with nervous anticipation about revisiting college - a time in my life where I was so unsure about myself..
Would I remember people? Would I have anyone to hang out with? Would my classmates remember me? Or of even greater concern, was the me that they remember someone they even liked? You see I was not very happy in college and my insecurities that traveled with me from high school made me shy which often came across as cold or distant. In college I resorted to my old standby defense mechanism: immerse myself in my studies and not really put myself out there socially. I lived most of my life in "when/then" thinking: "When I graduate and start my own life, then I'll be happy" or "When I get a boyfriend then I'll feel good about myself" and so on. Despite all this, I did manage to make a few good friends, pledge a sorority and fall in love for the first time. But my college years did not live up to the "time of my life" experience I had expected and when I graduated I jetted off to LA before the ink on my diploma was dry.
Indeed going back to my reunion solo and having to face a bunch of people that I never made much of an effort to connect with or stay in touch with is a bit nerve-racking. But ten years later I have some life experience under my belt which none of us had in college. I know now that a lot of the other people there were probably just as self-conscious as me. More importantly I know that I do not have anything to prove to anyone, including myself.
My college degree taught me a lot of things, but I don't think any of us really walk away from college with the most important lesson of all: knowing who we truly are. I've spent the past ten years discovering who I am and working to accept it. Maybe that is what reunions are really for. It's not about showing up to show off how far you've come or how great you look - it's about showing up AS yourself.
So that's who I showed up as, and do you know what? I had a blast! As I reconnected with people, I shared with them about how I struggled with tremendous self-doubt and almost every person I talked to could relate in some way. College, like the twenty-something years that follow, is a confusing time. We are just beginning to discover who we are - and most of us are pretty hard on ourselves as we do.
Now on the flight home from Chicago after reconnecting with some amazing people and realizing how much I kept myself separate, I'll admit that I'm indulging in a little "If only. . ." If only I would have made more of an effort to learn how to be a friend and build lasting friendships. If only I had known that the boys I liked actually liked me back. If only I had not stressed myself out studying so hard because no one has EVER asked me what my GPA was and had some fun instead. If only I had taken the classes I actually wanted to take instead of taking ones I thought I "should."
But "if only" thinking is as much of a spin cycle as "when/then" thinking. It takes us out of the present moment and produces regret. As I bring my awareness back to the present sitting here in my purple and white Northwestern T-Shirt, I realize that the key ingredient that was missing for me in college was being in and enjoying the present moment. Because I was so focused on the future and consumed with all the things I didn't like about myself - I missed out a bit. Thank goodness I learned this lesson and could go back and really BE at my reunion and soak up all the good times.
I think many of you reading can probably relate to missing out on moments of your life because you were too fixated on the future or your internal negative self-talk muted out the moment. My encouragement for you this month is to take your own walk down memory lane and investigate any insecurities and/or expectations that you packed along the way. Be willing to begin to take steps to lighten your load by accepting where you are and who you are. Stop living for the future and enjoy the juiciness of where you are right now. The present moment deserves your full attention and participation - no matter how much you like it or not. Because before you know it, you'll get the invitation for your ten, twenty, or thirty year reunion so savor all the moments in between.
Questions for reflection:
* What insecurities did you take with you to college*? Are you still carrying them or have you set intentions and taken steps to let them go?
* What expectations did you have going into college and how did they or are they impacting your decisions? Are there any expectations you are still clinging to that are getting in the way of what you want?
* Who were you in college? Did you like who you were and how much of that identity do you carry with you?
* What were some of your favorite things about college? What did you least enjoy?
* If you could tell your college self anything knowing what you know now, what would it be?
* If you could go back, would you add another major/minor? If so, what and why? Can you take classes in those fields at the local community college now?
* What valuable lessons were missing from your college curriculum that you are responsible for teaching yourself?
* If there was one person from college that you could reconnect with, who would it be? What's stopping you from reaching out?
* Imagine yourself at your next big college reunion - what do you want to be telling people about yourself?
* College is often about enriching one's self and meeting other people. What are you doing now to expand your circle? How are you exploring new things?
*If you did not attend college, then use high school as your reference point.