We all have that one friend who is a quotable gold mine. She is always saying something that makes you do a double-take.
I never had to do much searching to find mine, as my best friend made it very clear at the mere age of 4 that that would be her starring role.
The story goes that her mom asked my itty bitty BFF why her room was a mess and she looked up to respond with, “I find comfort in the chaos.” Needless to say, her room remained messy and her moments of remarkable wisdom and authenticity grew more frequent in the 14 years that followed.
During the final weeks leading up to graduation from high school, she took me aback yet again by thanking a teacher with more grace and thoughtfulness than I had ever considered, saying, “I could have never tested my wings and learned how to fly if you hadn’t given me a safe place to land when I fall.”
Seriously, where does she get it? I can barely get out my pizza order from time to time.
I found myself reflecting on that bird in flight metaphor a lot lately and here’s why:
I have officially decided that most other metaphors we use to describe life suck. For example, what is with this tale of the baby bird being pushed out of the nest to learn how to fly? We all assume that it miraculously takes flight before hitting the ground. But no one ever tells you if the bird returns to the nest.
I didn’t understand just how badly I wanted to know the answer until I was that little bird, my soaring, off-to-college imagination taking in the skyline of a city far from home.
Whether it’s through the bird metaphor or just our casual conversation surrounding college, a girl can get a real complex about independence and identity, and your first week in a new place is not the time for an identity crisis.
I came to school with the impression that finding independence was a venture of solitude. The “new me” everyone talks about had to be discovered solely in my new environment, meaning this new identity could only be found on campus, immersed wholly in the collegiate world.
That thought, even in the mind of a fiercely independent and adventurous 18-year-old, dumped an enormous load pressure on my shoulders. It created a standard for how I could find my independence.
The problem with this mindset is that it disregards so many aspects of life that exist and influence you outside of your college environment.
I am made up of everything I learned from my parents, my friends, and the town I grew up in. We all are. The concept of a “new me,” in the way I had come to understand it, was asking me to remove the majority of my past, and what I had learned from it, in order to start fresh.
But identity is fluid, not made of disposable parts, and understanding who you are is the first step in understanding how to obtain your independence.
In retrospect, I came to school believing I had to invent a person who could never actually exist and yikes– was that an isolating thought or what? It joined forces with the isolation that can come with not knowing anyone, being far from home, and worrying that going home was “uncool”. It was a recipe for homesickness and self-doubt.
But here is what I’ve learned since.
First of all, the new, brilliant, and independent me was an addition to the identities I already claimed.
I was and am a sister. A friend. A daughter. And a bit of a nerd. Everything I learned from the people I loved and my experiences growing up influenced the person who walked into the dorm on day one, eyes bright and stomach brimming with butterflies.
And secondly, being “uncool” for appreciating the little things, admitting to vulnerability, and promoting the comfort of myself and others is something that disappears after high school. In the real world, no one gives a hoot if you go home for a weekend.
Redefining independence for myself has been the biggest blessing of my college experience so far and I only wish someone told me sooner. So I am telling you. Independence is not an abandonment of the people you once depended upon, it is an opportunity to celebrate a new kind of relationship with them. Independence is adding new lenses to your outlook on life.
Today, I am still a daughter. But I can now proudly add that I am an activist. A scholar. An explorer. And a girl who catches the train home every few weeks to share my growth and excitement about the world with the people I love.
The world, old and new, is at your fingertips. That’s independence. Go get em, girl.
Image via Anna Schultz