Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Starting Weak

Warning: whiny personal post ahead.

Thus far, college is ambivalent.

I want to be clear: I am lucky and grateful to be at my university, and I do not wish for an instant that I was somewhere else. Because the problems I've encountered are mostly problems within myself, and those I would carry to whichever university I attended.
What are those problems and why am I ambivalent?

The good news is simple, so let's get that out of the way first. I really like all of my quadmates. They are sensible and funny and open minded and I am glad to live with them. Classes are interesting and I've heard good things about my professors, which is pleasantly surprising for someone coming out of the public high school system. Particularly the "classes are interesting" part.

The bad news is not really new. I'm facing the same problems I faced when starting high school. A part of me is angry and resentful about this: I know I've grown since freshman year of high school; shouldn't I be beyond this stuff already? This insecurity and awkwardness?

Maybe this is universal, or maybe I just have difficulty with change. Whichever it is, I think I'll have an easier time going forward if I can accept that I'm having a tough time with some things and figure out how to deal, instead of protesting that I shouldn't be this way.

The problems I have are social. I don't make good impressions and I didn't pay a lot of attention to social norms when I was younger, as a part of the sour grapes reactionary defense mechanism which many people who might have been called "nerd" at some point may recognize. "I may be weird but at least I'm smarter."

That doesn't fly in college. I know I can't be arrogant and I know I'm no longer one of the smart kids. I'm average here. And without that little piece of smug superiority locked up in my brain I feel exposed and inadequate, which is unpleasant.

Yesterday, I filled out a survey for the bonz sexion (trombone section) of the marching band. When I got to the question "pirate or hobo?" (one of the less strange questions I was asked), I immediately picked pirate. I would rather be murderous and notorious than nigh-powerless. I would rather be strong than vulnerable, and wow, it hurts a lot more than I would have expected it to, being back at the bottom of the heap.

Honestly, at times I feel like a freak. That's my melodrama speaking, of course, and it's never really emotional: rather, it's a gray bleakness that seeps into me when I've made another gaffe or made another mistake. "Hm, that went poorly. Normal people wouldn't say that or do that. I feel like a freak." (Note: I think I feel, more than I actually feel.) It's a little jab at my self-confidence, not a crushing blow to my self-esteem.

I know I'm not the only person who occasionally thinks that everyone else except for me got a handbook on how to be a normal, socially competent human being. I've come across passages in books stating the same thing and read enough internet memes fetishizing awkwardness to know that I'm not alone. But it is a rather lonely feeling, and I need to remember that even though it never went away completely in high school, it did lessen as time passed and I got to know people organically, through classes and hanging out, in situations more realistic than the social pressure cooker of orientation.

I should state again, this isn't a problem specific to my school. In fact, I would like to put in a plug for Stanford's awesome advising resources. The faculty advisors assigned to students are great, of course, but really the people I appreciate the most are the residential hall student staff. The RAs are amazing. They are the kind of student mentor that I was always looking for, and on a few occasions almost finding, in high school; they are the kind of student mentor that I hope to become. I can't get over how much they really care about us, how willing they are to help. What did I ever do to deserve that?

I miss being in a mentoring position. I miss being in a position to help, rather than to be helped. I would not give up any of my years here, but I want to be an upperclassman again. I want to skip past the rough beginning. I want to get to the good part.

But time, so far as we know, cannot be hurried by wishing. I don't want to rationalize it, saying that the experience of making mistakes and embarrassing myself and causing inadvertent offense is inherently valuable. Sure, I may learn lessons from it, but the experience itself I could do without, if I could get the lessons some other way.

Here is what I think I could say I am "meant" to learn from my weak start (if I believed in destiny, which I do not; we make meaning, meaning is not implicit in life): be patient with yourself, be patient with others, speak up, speak out, listen closely, be kind. The last one I think I can do fairly well; as for the others, I'll have to work on them.

Everything is not bad. I might stumble a lot now but I will eventually find my footing. There's always some fumbling, some mishap when I get back on my bike after class, but once I get moving I'm okay. With time, maybe I'll even learn to cut down that waffling adjustment period; maybe I'll learn to start strong.

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