During my second week of college I got shot. As I lay in the cold dirt, tears streaming down my face and a bullet hole ripped through my tattered, flannel pajama pants, I was filled with shame, regret, and infinite loneliness. Why?, I thought. Why am I here three- thousand miles away from everyone who loves me? Why am I here and how can I get out?
Before we go any further, I will admit, I had been shot with a paintball, but believe me, the pain was real. Allow me to explain.
I really struggled my first semester in college. The romantic fantasy of college life I had envisioned in my mind turned out to be at odds with the fact that I am a bona fide introvert through-and-through. Don't get me wrong, I love a good social occasion now and then, but being alone is where I recharge and feel my best and I hadn't considered how challenging the social bombardment of college would be. Every day it seemed like I was meeting hundreds of new people (all of whom must immediately adore and befriend me), every meal took place in a cafeteria swarming with students, and every night I went to bed with a near stranger snoring three feet from my head. It was intense. The worst part was that everyone seemed to be better equipped to deal with it than me. Funnier. Happier. More popular. Just overall better at being a human in relation to other humans.
My second week at college my RA organized a paintball trip for everyone on my dorm floor to bond. (Not sure how causing painful welts all over someone else's body promotes bonding, but okay) In my naivete, I imagined little nerf ball sponges soaked in colorful hues lobbed through the air - like a rainbow water balloon fight. Needless to say, I was more than a little disturbed when I discovered that the ammo were rock-hard little pellets, shot from what looked like AK-47s.
To make matters worse, my dormmates weren't the only enemies I needed to worry about. A SWAT team of paintball professionals pulled up in a pick up truck piled high with armor, face shields, and guns that were way bigger and more automatic than mine.
The battle was over before it even began. As soon as the start whistle blew, one of the paintball snipers ran up on me, gun aimed at my head. I threw up my hands in a pitiful display of surrender, but the s.o.b. shot me anyway. Ratatatatatatatatatata! And as I fell to the earth, it all seemed like one giant metaphor for my epic failure at the college social scene. Everyone knew how to play the game but me.
Paintballs hurt like a mother, but the tears I shed weren't about the physical pain. All of the stress, loneliness, and insecurity that had built up since I had arrived on campus drained from my eyes. I allowed myself to wallow further into self-pity when I thought about the fact that I didn't even have my own room where I could ugly cry in private. Let's just say it was a low moment in an otherwise respectable college career.
I share this story with my fellow introverts to let you know, I get it. Nearly half of the world is made up of introverts, yet it seems like most of our institutions are designed with extroverts in mind. As an adult, I have grown to love and accept my introversion and I wish I could pick up that sad, pathetic girl out of the mud she made from her own tears and tell her the following advice:
1. Eliminate the word SHOULD from your vocabulary.
A lot of my disappointment came from misaligned expectations of what college "should" be or what I "should" want to do with my time. Media portrayals of college paint it as an epic party where the social scene is EVERYTHING. College can be whatever you want it to be. If a Friday night good time to you is reading your favorite book in the library, do it! There's no shame. You do you, boo!
2. Get involved in activities that light you up.
One of the best decisions I made in college was to join an acapella group. In high school I participated in the performing arts and it was a relief to find people who had the same passions as me. I'm not the best at chatting up strangers, but there's something about working on a project or performance together week-in and week-out that almost necessitates forming friendships. Whatever you love, get involved and find your people!
3. Become friends with your fear.
I'd like to say that since becoming an adult all of my social anxiety has slipped away
and I have emerged from my insecurity like a butterfly from a cocoon, but unfortunately that is not the case. I've just gotten better at letting him quietly ride shotgun, while I navigate through life. It's okay to feel anxious about a new experience, but you can't let that feeling prevent you from living life. Fear is essential. It saves you from being eaten by a bear or falling off a cliff or embarrassing yourself in front of that cute guy down the hall. Acknowledge your fear, but make decisions based on what you really want out of your college experience. Go for it!
That's it for now! I'm excited to share more thoughts, ponderings, and advice about writing, college, and living your dreams. I'd love to hear from my fellow introverts out there... what other tips do you have for college or life in general?