How I Am Adopting Change into My Life Philosophy
A story for the young and stubborn.
It’s the tale of a girl with big dreams who leaves her small town to chase the possibilities that lie far from home. This was me only five and a half months ago. With a strict plan for the future, I dove head first into a world I did not understand.
I came with a mindset where academics come first. I was a high achieving student with strict plans for her future. Convinced that my experiences had prepared me well, I did not believe there were lessons left to learn. I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted. I was at Western Washington University to receive my teaching degree and get out into the real world. There was no time to enjoy little moments when my life was awaiting me. Even running at your fastest pace could not have kept up with me.
Yet, no matter the speed I ran, college presented me with difficulties. My roommate and I did not get along as well as we thought we would. Wasting time is much easier without all the obligations. Work loads began to pile up and I fell behind in classes. The laid back atmosphere of a liberal university presented so many temptations to an uptight nineteen year old. All around me, I heard that college was fun, but I had yet to discover the same. Could it be that I was going about this wrong? My ideas were being rocked, and I did not want to think that I had been wrong about my level of preparation.
Unwilling to abandon my stubborn point of view, I turned to other freshmen. I refused to think there was lesson I needed to learn. I was mature. I was ready to be an adult and start my career. I was hoping research would show me that I had been right. But, it seemed my peers were experiencing similar changes as we all adjusted to our new home. Damn, I thought, I did not have life all figured out.
It was this that led me to wonder if changing who I was would be okay. I thought clinging to my beliefs was the best way to stay true to who I am. Seeing other college freshman struggle led me to ask if were we altering who we were to fit our new environment, or were we on our way to becoming cultured adults?
Chasing Unwanted Answers
Research on social settings uncovered a cycle that individuals and their environments have. Many authors agree that the environment impacts a person’s behavior (1). Examples of the phenomenon are everywhere. For instance, while spending time with my boyfriend, he received a phone call. Sitting up straighter and clearing his voice, he exclaims, “Hi Grandma”. His tone of voice surprised me, I had never heard him speak that way before! He did not even notice when I pointed it out. Unconsciously, he was aware that his environment changed. From one of comfort with his girlfriend, it switched to one of formality and respect with his grandma.
Yet, as I explored the way settings impact young adults, I discovered that the effects are not one way. I found that individuals can affect their surroundings. Factors that make up a setting can include group dynamic, personal opinions, and the feel of a room. One person can alter all those, and more. Because individuals are influencers in their environment, they are able to control it. Those around us make judgments based on observed body language, tone of voice, attitude and other behaviors. Altering these can make drastic changes.
For my age group, this observation is critical. As I discovered from my explorations, college is a time when social interactions shape our maturity and growth (2). Acknowledging the personal changes that incur from surroundings can shape appropriate responses. Understanding your own power in a situation is also valuable for developing positive environments that spur productive growth.
Constructively Viewing Change
Young adults do not always take into account the ripple effects their actions will have. Some are all too willing to make changes that lead to thrill. Others are comfortable never experiencing a new environment or altering their comfortable lifestyle. But I argue that this is too damaging. I am not saying that every young adult should live their life as I am mine. Everyone is free to make their own choices and I encourage pushing boundaries. My advice is to take time to reflect. Observe changes that you notice within yourself and explore them. Through self-reflection, I have found an analogy that comforts me.
I imagine myself laying on the beach in the shallow water. I have learned that being rocked by the waves from time to time will only make me stronger. I will let the ocean erode my skin, altering weaker traits that cannot withstand the current. From time to time, I will be pushed into the sand where rocks and broken shells may scrape me. But at any moment, I can stand and fight the tides. If I chose to display my strength, I can swim beyond the reef, further out to sea where it is easier to float. The ocean may influence me from time to time, but I am still an individual with the ability to choose. To choose to fight, or to be changed by the experience.
As a millennial, I then tattooed this analogy on my body as a permanent reminder. I wanted to remember that change is okay. I needed to comfort my fear of losing who I am among those around me. I wanted to know that I would be okay in new situations that may not match my original plans.
Contradiction Inspires Growth
This wave I drew for myself comes into contradiction with another tattoo I have. As mentioned, only 5 months ago, I came into college with the mindset that did not allow growth. I wanted to shoot an arrow and follow it straight to my dreams. No time to stop and smell the roses. For months I struggled to decide which path was correct. Are we supposed to chase after what we want? Or are we to succumb to the distraction around us? If I had followed my original instinct, I would be missing all that college has to offer. I would not slow down to challenge myself. I would have missed crucial time to develop who I am. In learning that there is time to develop before chasing my dreams, I realized changing as a result of my environment gave me a new perspective.
One of these changes is in my social life. In high school I had my few friends, but we were all busy so keeping in contact was not a priority. I thought I would be able to navigate college in a similar manner. I had always been independent, it got me pretty far in life, so why would I need friends now? It was as simple as drowning in my first few weeks that I realized support systems exist for a reason. I needed friends to get me along whether I liked it or not.
With my transition to college fresh, it is unrealistic to claim I have altered my perspective on life. More accurately, I am still learning and growing, and will continue to for quite some time. The way I view life today may not be the same as tomorrow. Consistency is not important. The value is noticing each little way that I shift my perspective. The growth comes from acknowledging my changes and questioning them. This is what I encourage other young adults to do.
Chase after the arrows you shoot into the clouds, but remember that there is beauty around you to be taken in. Slow down, learn, grow, and enjoy. Your dreams will always be a reach away.
Ozaki, Casey C. and Robin L. Spaid. Apply College Change Theories to Student Affair Practice. John Wiley & Sons, 2016.
(2) Astin, Alexander et al. Cultivating the Spirit. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.