I’ve been at Ohio State’s campus quite a bit in the last few weeks promoting Sseko founder Liz Bohannon’s visit to the university. In some ways I still feel and could probably look like a college student, particularly since my “capsule wardrobe” is really just 10 pairs of black leggings and various t-shirts, at least until my baby spits on said T-shirts and otherwise reminds me that I have way more responsibility now.
While on campus and observing students go about their lives, I found myself thinking, and saying to whomever would listen to this old fogey, that I wish I had been more involved when I was a student. Because that was when opportunities abounded, the stakes were relatively low, there were no tiny mammals relying on me for surviva, and life was pretty damn simple, if not entirely easy. (Actually, no, my college life was definitely easy compared to the grown-up world even though I made it harder than it needed to be.)
When I applied for college, I was accepted to and considered attending Northwestern, but my Chinese practicality won over my Chinese prestige hunting when OSU made me a scholarship offer I couldn’t refuse. But I came to see my decision to attend Ohio State as one of the best choices I ever made for many more reasons than just the money. (The liberating power of graduating debt-free, however, absolutely cannot be overstated.) Attending a big state school exposed me to a range of diversity I am convinced I would not have experienced otherwise, at least not as quickly. This broadened my horizons beyond the highly restrictive box I’d grown up in, showing me that people with different beliefs and lifestyles were not crazy or evil or beknighted or horribly depraved as I had always assumed/been taught they were.
In the grand scheme of things, though, I still think I played it too safe in college, particularly with my time and energy. I double-majored in genetics and English, and while my English classes gave me great pleasure, I did not *need* to carry as intense a course load nor study as hard as I did. (In retrospect I also could have done a general biology degree rather than the more grueling genetics major.) Academics was my comfort zone so I stayed there. I made perfunctory attempts at involvement by joining (and subsequently leaving or not really participating in) various student organizations, class honoraries and a research-oriented colloquium (even though I discovered after freshman year that I had *zero* interest in bench research) because I thought I needed to pad my resume for graduate school, but it all turned out to be too much extroverting anyway so I just hovered on the fringes designing T-shirts, managing websites and making organization scrapbooks. I should have just started the Introverts Club where everyone sits quietly next to each other working on projects. Even my volunteer work was limited to church and a science education outreach group, the latter of which did turn out to be useful for my teaching career. If I had known about a company like Sseko in college, or the whole idea of social enterprise for that matter, I’m sure I would have written it off as “not for me” because I “didn’t have time” (HAH) and it wasn’t overtly Jesusy or academicky enough. (It is mildly comforting to know that the founder of Sseko herself felt similarly in college.)
But as I watched the small army of enthusiastic undergraduates bravely chasing down students on the Oval and stuffing promo flyers in their faces (while I stood behind my merchandise table smiling encouragingly and assuring them this was great rejection therapy), I realized that it wasn’t just lack of time or even preference for introversion that kept me from getting involved during college. It was fear.
Fear of failure, which honors organic chemistry did quite a bit to dissolve because really, after you get 46% on a midterm NOTHING CAN DO ANYTHING TO MEEEE. (Or so I thought…that was before genetics 607…it still stings a little now.) Fear of looking dumb, which one week of classroom teaching fully cured, because you cannot stand up in front of 25 teenagers and talk about gametes with a straight face and still take yourself seriously. Fear of rejection, which 2 years of online dating and 4+ years of constant job searching made me quite desensitized to. And most importantly, fear of the unknown. (Still working on all of these, by the way, but especially the last one.)
In college, I responded to these fears by tightening my control on whatever I could: my grades, my money, my friendships, my time, even my diet and exercise. (More on that eventually.) I constructed a whole fragile house of cards around myself and used that as an excuse not to risk reaching out or letting anything else in.
Eventually I realized that life will pull cards out from my house (or just smack the whole house down) no matter how hard I resist. Having said no to almost everything for a long time, I started saying yes to everything, which I soon learned has its own consequences. Finally, about three years ago, I learned to distinguish things that truly fed my soul and things that just covered up deeper desires. (Coincidentally…or not…that was around the time I met Science Guy; marriage and motherhood have been the hardest and best things I have ever done.)
Could I have understood all of this in college? My guess is, probably not. For some things, experience is the best teacher. But looking back, I probably could have been a better student of life, not just books. Instead of building a house of cards that could fall any second, I wish I’d played some more hands. My hope now is to encourage Fire Monkey (and anyone else who will listen) to be brave and take risks for what they believe is important.