By Amanda Hancock, For The Miami Student
When you come to college, you’re this girl with a list in your head. It has all of your things. It’s all of the descriptors you attach to yourself. Quiet. Smart-ish. Quirky. Friend of so-and-so. From that town. Wearer of denim.
As you get older, you keep adding modifiers and tacking on words and phrases. You meet people who fill in blank spots or you travel to Europe or you discover a newfound passion for the outdoors. Somewhere along the way, you become a weird blend of old and new, of everyone around you, food you love, of every bad grade and every compliment you’ve ever gotten.
People say college is about finding yourself, but I think it’s more about leaving things behind: those things your parents want you to be, the crazy expectation in your head, the routine you’re afraid to break. It’s about leaving parts of that list behind.
At our age, we spend a lot of time looking for people to tell us who we are. If we’re praised for good grades, we keep studying. If we get a lot of laughs when we drink, we take another shot. If we get attention for our looks, we go shopping and add another layer of mascara.
We look for identity in our major or our clothes or what we do on the weekend or the way people see us. We ask people to lead us and tell us which path to take or what dress we should wear to dinner. We try on different versions of ourselves and we take on ways of living that don’t really fit.
For a while, that’s what college is like: an editing of our things. We keep thinking our lists are finished, but then we scratch one item off or expand the fine print.
I thought I would end my four years as this polished person with the prestigious job and attractive boyfriend and bright plans — everything checked off my list. But with each bullet point, I found rejection, a splash of failure and hurt or shame. I didn’t win every prize and a few people broke my heart and I got a C in my Economics class.
So I kept reworking my list. I kept waiting to wake up and be this refined, slightly more put-together person than I was the day before. I wanted to be the person who always made her bed and didn’t have stains on her sweatshirts and had a busy social calendar. I wanted to be a thousand things I wasn’t.
A few nights ago, after a long day when the wine was being passed around, my friend asked me to pick three things that make me Amanda. Pick any three items and go, she said. Before I knew it, three words spilled out like they’d been bottled up for too long.
Coffee beans. Grass. Notebook paper.
Four years ago, I never would’ve been able to answer that question so quickly or confidently.
But now I knew. The smell of coffee beans fills me up. It reminds me of hour-long conversations at Kofenya with my best friend and only a cup of coffee between us.
When I think of grass, I think of a long 10-mile run on a weekend morning and laughing wildly at something my teammate just said in between breaths. At the end of our run when our legs are muddy and the earth is slightly damp, we lie in the grass, and stretch and smile under the warmth of the sun.
Notebook paper is where my mind spills out; it’s where words leak into new sentences and come together. I have piles of pages with big thoughts scribbled down that only my fingers have formed.
We’re all made up of the places we go and our favorite songs and books, but we’re more distinctly marked by those crystallized moments that can barely be explained.
Moving our tassels to the other side can seem like we’re leaving everything we know. Right now, I have friends who are down the hall and three minutes away and saving me a seat at Fiesta Charra. I have a schedule and a really good pair of jeans. I’m scared of leaving that feeling of connectedness and comfort.
But I’m not scared of saying goodbye to the parts of myself I’ve left behind here. And I’m not scared of the chance to keep learning and relearning who I really am.
We are not a bunch of descriptors or things other people want us to be. We are not a finalized list. We are forever in editing mode.
We can still be anything. We can still do anything. We can be the one on stage or the one with the briefcase or with the plane ticket or the one who wrote the book. We can keep adding to our list. We can throw the list away. We are not tied down to this job, haircut or city. We are beautifully unfinished.