By Tiffany Areco, Contributing Writer.
When I finished high school, I was ready to take on the world. I felt excited about leaving behind my childhood and childhood friends. Not to be mean, but I was ready for something new, something more “adult”. My best friend and I had enrolled in same university, so everything seemed to be on the right, upward and onward path. I was a 17-year-old girl ready to head out and kick some ass in Engineering.
My plans were this: finish university by 21, work for two years to get some “professional experience”, apply to high-level Master’s program, and then dedicate myself to a career as a Prosthetic Designer. I figured I’d also make sure to travel and see the world (study abroad, anyone?). Simple and to the point. I cannot deny I felt proud of having my life so organized at a young age; many classmates didn’t even know what they wanted to study.
I guess if Current Me could visit Past Me, she would understand — and also just laugh (in a friendly, all-too-knowing way).
Nothing turns out the way you expect
Although I had the idea that my university life was going to be drastically different from my high school life, I was wrong. Starting the new semester with other young people who like me had just finished their high school studies turned out to be just like entering one of my old classes.
Our maturity was the same. I was expecting to enter this whole new “grown-up world,” but nobody could grow so much during just one summer. I sat in the middle of a packed undergraduate lecture class, analyzing all the people around me, trying to accept this reality.
At least it did feel a bit easier to bond with some of my peers. Choosing the same major and preparing for similar careers creates plenty of conversation starters. But after the first few days of trying to talk about “serious career topics,” we were back to the gossip and everyday drama I recognized from high school.
Talking about boyfriends, girlfriends, breakups, and problems with professors became the norm. In the end, we were all still young people in just another crowded place.
Then, there was a new a kind of disappointment I never would have expected:
By the end of the first semester, calculus had defeated me. No matter how much I studied, I felt nothing made sense in my head. During exam time, the numbers transformed into indecipherable signs, and I could not answer more than two questions correctly.
I felt horrible at the thought that I would need to re-take the course. I tried to hide my face in my scarf when I left for home at the end of the semester. I felt like the word “failure” had been scrawled on my back — but maybe if I tried to hide it nobody would see? I did, though, call my mother to tell her what happened. But I just felt mixed emotions when she told me was sorry to hear but that it wasn’t the end of the world. Really?
With some sadness, I decided to re-take calculus during the Winter break and swallowed my pride. I wasn’t going to let some numbers defeat me, not again. When I entered the class, I saw some of my classmates from the Fall, but they all seemed much more relaxed than me.
It took me a long time to realize this: calculus is just one subject. Failing it the first time around wouldn’t mark me for the rest of my life. Also, taking some time to learn the subject in more depth would actually help me in the future.
Taking a break
The first two years of university, I tried to take all the subjects I could so I wouldn’t be left behind. I thought, “if I can be faster than my peers, I can still save time in the long run.” I took between seven and eight courses each semester. I was dedicating myself entirely to my studies.
My mother reminded me how proud she always was of me, but she also told me to get some rest from time to time. I didn’t listen to her; I was focused on achieving all that I had planned.
At that time, I was dating a guy for almost a year, and that made me felt proud of my life again. But after awhile, we just started fighting, and it seemed the one thing we could agree on was that it was best for us to part. I felt sad, but I wasn’t going to let the sadness stop me.
One Monday after that, my cell phone started failing. I couldn’t afford a new one, and honestly I didn’t want a new one — I loved that phone! I got by by turning it off and on again, so it would work…most of the time. As much as I loved the phone, I had to admit this new routine was making me moody.
Then Saturday came: our class was having a special early morning industry networking event. But the alarm on my phone didn’t work for obvious reasons. By time I woke up, I rushed to try to attend, but I was already too late to meet the rest of the class. I wanted to call them and find out where they were, but no luck. And finally, my phone died.
I walked home angry. When I entered the living room, my mother was there watching TV.
“Enough, I am exhausted!” I said while I started crying. “I cannot keep going.”
I felt childish and weak. My mother hugged me and let me cry a little bit more. She could understand all my feelings. She told me, I had forgotten about me. After all, I wasn’t a machine. I was a person, and I had pushed myself to the limit.
That day, I decided to leave the university for one semester.
This certainly was not in my plans. But I decided I would try something new and give myself an opportunity to redefine what I wanted in my life.
Life is full of surprises
When I got back to university, I felt invigorated. I knew the semester off had helped me. Nevertheless, the moment I stepped into class, a small voice inside my head reminded I was “supposed” to finish my studies by time I was 21.
I had moved to a new city and felt a little disoriented for the first weeks. I tried my best to keep up with all my new classmates and started dedicating myself again to my studies. The year passed by like I had planned it.
I can’t recall when I decided to start swimming, but I needed to start taking better care of my body, and it seemed to be an ideal exercise. So swimming became my new early morning habit. It was all fine, until one day, I started feeling uncomfortable — turns out, I had gotten a urinal infection. (I’m sure many women will relate). I took some pills and forgot all about it.
When I visited my mother for Winter break, I got sick again. This time, it was worse. I had shivers and a fever so high that I was taken straight to the ER. I got prescribed more antibiotics, but they didn’t work, and the week I took them I felt horrible. I was constantly nauseous, stayed in bed most of the day, and had no appetite whatsoever.
I went to a different doctor for more tests. The infection hadn’t disappeared and in fact was far from cured, so my family decided to put me in the hospital until I got better. Luckily it was a short stay, but no one could figure out why I got sick. No matter the tests or the treatments, the results were inconclusive. So, I had to keep taking the antibiotics.
With Winter break almost done, my mother was worried about my going back to school and having another infection. She asked me to stay home until we knew what we were facing. I felt upset again. I understood her point, but still I felt frustrated.
One day when my mother got home and asked how I was doing, I said: ” I need a job and I don’t want to go back to the university”. This may sound strong, but inside I was still feeling I would be ashamed of myself for not graduating with my classmates.
But at the same time, I was tired of how things were going. I needed something different in my life.
So, I applied to a hotel to be a receptionist and got accepted. I can’t deny this surprised my family and myself!
NOT Accomplishing Your Plans Might Be the Best Thing for You
Working in a hotel focusing on hospitality and customer service was far from what I had ever imagined when I finished high school….but I was fulfilled! I felt I was in the right place doing the right thing. I couldn’t believe I had never thought of studying something related to hospitality.
Almost a semester after dropping out of the university, I faced my friends and told them I wasn’t coming back. They understood my situation and wished me the best. I guess that was the moment I finally realized my plans weren’t going to be accomplished as I thought. Yet, it wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, it was very much a good thing!
I loved my job and started thinking about pursuing a career related to it. I organized my schedule better and went back to school to get a Bachelor’s degree. But this time I prioritized taking care of my health.
It’s been almost 10 years now since I finished high school. I did not complete my studies at 21. And I’m not a Prosthetic Designer. Instead, I’m preparing myself to start an online business, and I’m genuinely happy in my career. I sometimes think about the plans I had before, and I can’t believe how far off they were from the life I’m actually living.
When people ask me today about future planning, I say I believe we must plan and think about our future. Yet, we also need to be ready for all the surprises life has in store for us.
Tiffany Areco is a Life Coach who specializes in Radical Forgiveness and helps her clients focus on self-dependence. She also guides restless and unsettled individuals step-by-step away from boredom and comfort towards an unapologetic life. Follow her online at @tiffanyareco