This year, I wrote my first New Year’s resolution. One sleepless night at the beginning of the semester, I got up, scrawled it on a piece of notepad paper, and taped it above my bed where I could see it each day. It reminds me every time I see it to “run toward the things that I’m afraid of,” because they’re usually the things that end up meaning the most to me. Even knowing this now, I need the daily reminder because, deep down, I know my insecurities can still stop me from facing my fears. Needless to say, I am a work in progress.
Change on a personal level is hard. It rarely comes unless you’re deliberate, placing yourself in situations that you know are challenging. You have to be willing to embrace that you might not know yourself as well as you thought, when it’s much easier to think of your personality and beliefs as a constant. At a minimum, you have to let your guard down, and ultimately that’s the hardest part – opening yourself up to the vulnerabilities that you might be afraid of.
Penn often teaches us that we’re not supposed to be vulnerable. We’ve all heard of Penn face, and are more familiar than ever with the kind of “destructive perfectionism” that we’re prone to as students. In many ways, we’re expected to have all the answers – whether to the exam, to the interview, or to our parents’ nagging questions – which breeds in us a sense that we’re not supposed to be weak. That’s problematic though, because we all are in some ways – and that‘s okay.
Vulnerability breeds betterment. Opening ourselves up to others, deficiencies and all, challenges us by forcing us to think about who we are and who we want to be. The times at Penn where I let myself be vulnerable were the times when I experienced the most happiness and the most pain. They were also undoubtedly the times that I learned the most about myself.
I learned that fear has little to do with what I believe about others and more to do with what I believe about myself. I learned that it’s easy to hide behind the façade of coolly “doing me” to avoid exposing my weaknesses, and that sometimes I can learn the most from my haters. I learned that the situations that make me the most uncomfortable are usually the ones that make me a stronger person. And I learned that personally, I’m capable of being and doing almost anything; 9 times out of 10, the limiting factor is myself.
This place can be brutal and beautiful. And in being here at my best and worst, the most important way I’ve grown is by learning how to grow. Sure, there are a life lessons I will take from my experience at Penn: that happiness is just success on your own terms; that we’re all a product of our circumstances to some extent; and that taking the road less traveled really does make all the difference. But those are the lessons of today. Tomorrow, next week, or next year, I’m willing to let those lessons change, as my experiences and perspectives make me into the person I will become.
But if there’s one thing I won’t let change, it’s my resolve to keep changing.
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