It’s the first day of school!! It’s a little silly, but even though I’m a college sophomore, the first day of school still excites me the way it did when I was young. Having new folders and notebooks and pencils, meeting new teachers, making new friends, is (nearly) as exciting now as it was ten years ago. But I must admit that this year is an outlier; this year is special. Why? Well, it’s because I finally, finally know I’m headed in the right direction.
Let me be more specific. Today is my first official day as an English major/future teacher. Last year, I was a business major…not because I ever really wanted to be, but because I was urged by my parents and peers to do something “practical;” i.e., that would make decent money without being overwhelmingly labor-intensive. I wanted to make my parents happy, and because they are giving me financial support, I felt obligated to do whatever they said. College is an opportunity so many people don’t have, and I wanted to show my gratitude by doing what my family told me was best. I wish the knowledge that I was following my parents’ wishes had been enough to make me feel okay about majoring in a field I very much disliked, but it wasn’t. I was unbelievably conflicted, stressed, and unhappy all year long.
I wasn’t living authentically. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t; I was trying to enjoy subjects I just had no interest in. Every time I told someone my major, I felt the need to put a disclaimer on it, such as: “I’m in the business college, but I don’t really know what I want to do specifically yet.” Because in college, your major really is a part of your identity. It totally impacts the way people think of you—something my parents can’t really understand. Everyone was always shocked to hear what I was studying; they’d say, “You do not seem like a business person,” or something like that. Because I’m quiet, and introverted, and very much a follower. So I always felt the need to explain myself, to somehow justify the fact that I was so very different from the majority of my classmates.
A year of that was incredibly wearing. All of the lying and pretending caused me to create this sort of second, secret identity, in order to cope. This “second identity” was the girl that went to coffee shops for hours alone to sit in the corner and write, write, write, long, philosophical essays that tried to grapple with the twisted world she was living in. This was the girl who would go out exploring the city or nature alone, just trying to escape the people who couldn’t know the “real” her. This was the girl who had fantasies about being discovered, of finding someone to give her the strength to stand up for herself and pursue her passions; someone who would love her for her, not the image of her. All of that sounds very bookish and romanticized when I write it down, but in reality, I was just very, very unhappy. I felt smothered.
I had dreams about going to a psychologist and confessing everything. There was really no one I could talk to that could help me, or at least it felt that way, because the only people that really mattered were my parents—and I didn’t talk to them. I guess I should have, but I was just so afraid to disappoint, and I kept telling myself, I can do this. It will get better. Fake it til you make it, right? But that just didn’t work.
Somehow, midway through the summer, I was saved. I grew apart from God last year because I was so dissatisfied with my life—I felt He had abandoned me, that He wanted me to sacrifice my own happiness for my parents’, that I was going to have to come to terms with this life I didn’t want and that that was just so unfair—but then, miraculously, the truth came out. I wasn’t going to say anything. I wasn’t going to tell my Mom how depressed I’d been; I was just going to stay on that treadmill and try to make it work until I either succeeded, or fell off. But one day, on a long drive home from my Aunt’s house, my Mom somehow got the truth out of me, and though tears were cascading down my cheeks, I could still see the horizon. A beautiful, sunset horizon, full of promise that I would be okay, the knowledge that the lies had been revealed, and hope that I could learn how to be me again. And I know that God brought me there.
After that followed the longest three days of my life, in which we figured out what to do. I went from planning on dropping out of school for a while to transferring schools to finally, discovering the education program at my school and changing all of my classes. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher; as a kid, that was the only job I ever dreamed of. That never really went away. And English is my subject; I love love love it, and I want to share that with future generations. And now, I have that chance!
Last year’s struggle taught me a valuable lesson: that to live inauthentically is one of the worst things you can do for your own happiness. Lying about who you are, making friends with people who don’t share your values, pursuing “goals” you don’t really want…none of that is going to put you on the path you want to be. None of that will make you a better person or help you be your best self. I think living authentically is easier for “less complicated” people, or people whose interests, values, and personalities align with that of the majority. But it’s harder if you’re different…and I know that I am much less an outlier than other people, so I know my struggle is definitely not as bad as others’. But to me, that struggle was very real, and I can’t diminish that.
I am living more authentically now. I am studying what I love, and I have an end goal that I truly believe in. A weight has been lifted from my chest, and that feeling is miraculous. But I know I’m not 100% safe; it’s easy to fall into traps and old habits. Sometimes living authentically is the harder decision, but in the end, happiness doesn’t come from a life of ease. It comes from the knowledge that you’re fighting for yourself and what you believe in.
I hope you, whoever’s reading this, will do your best to live as authentically as possible, even if it’s difficult. Even if you feel judged or like you don’t belong, if you keep it up you’ll eventually find where you belong. At least, I hope so. I’m only 19, so what do I know? But I think I’ve come out of my first struggle with inauthenticity changed for the better, and I’m far more hopeful for the future than I’ve ever been.