When I first saw "Meg" back on her high school campus after her freshman year studying at a university 'across the pond', I rushed over to greet her, smiling widely, and asked, "How are you? How was your first year?" Immediately I could feel this lovely young woman's heart shrink. "It was okay. But... I'm not going back." She said this with embarrassment and shame, and my heart ached for her.
Meg had planned on attending a college in the UK since she knew what 'going to college' meant, and her senior year in high school had been filled with determination, dedication and a good deal of anxiety surrounding getting into her UK school of choice. This lovely young woman had done her college research diligently and placed all her bets on what seemed a good fit, a perfect match. She had weathered the many worried questions coming from well wishing adults ("But you'll be so far away from your family - how will you handle that?", "I've heard they don't really like Americans over there", "You'd better be prepared - the class schedule and end of term tests are not like we have them here - much more challenging"). And through it all, she'd kept her chin up, answered with a smile, continued her forward steps to reach her personal goal, and then... she hated it. She was homesick, the culture was not what she expected, she did not make many friends, she found her coursework challenging but presented by her professors in a way that was wholly uninspiring and dry. And, even though she knew what to expect, she hated the weather. After two semesters there trying to tough it out, Meg returned to a host of real and imagined 'I told you so's, and a heavy heart.
I felt deeply for Meg and her feeling of shame, because I too often feel embarrassed when I change course. And I change course a lot. As I grow older, I realize though that in sailing, this is what they call 'tacking'. I end up at my destination by tacking left then right and back again, at the end making it to my destination, but not having taken the straight route to get there. It may appear to others that I am fluttering in the wind like a falling leaf, but I, like Meg, am trying, tasting and testing - left and right - then deciding on what is right for me.
If I still my heart and mind, I always know what it is I really want to do and in what direction I wish to head. In this college application season, I urge each and every senior to take a deep breath, settle into what they know to be true about themselves, and make decisions from that safe place of personal wisdom. If I were able to help young adults in only one way, I would wish to be able to shield them from other people's expectations of how they 'should' live their life. Other people's expectations and judgments can be extremely detrimental to a young adult's sense of self and vision for their life path. I have felt others judgments and expectations far too acutely throughout my life, and I only wish I had learned earlier on to say "Fart off. This is MY life. Point your fingers at your self and do your own personal work." If you choose 'wrong', choose again! Failure is only failure if you learn nothing from the experience.
As I told Meg then, and I would tell her again: I am proud of her. She stayed true to what she knew to be true. And that is how it should be.