In the fall of 2000, I was a freshman at the University of Minnesota. I was fresh out of high school, 600 miles away from family, friends and high school drama, and ready to be grown. I applied to Minnesota without even making a visit to campus, but my visit to Minneapolis during orientation showed me that I made the right decision. My roommate for freshman orientation was a Twin Cities native, and one night she took me to Lake Calhoun to hang out with her friends. That night I gazed out, past the lake, and saw a beautiful skyline, bright and shiny. That image has stuck with me, and I remember thinking how beautiful it was, and how excited I was to start this new phase of my life in this city. I spent the next eight semesters immersed in college life - classes, life in the dorm, staying up all night, cramming for exams, partying, drinking, dating, pledging, road tripping - you name it, I did it, except for study abroad. I enjoyed myself, but I was focused; I had a plan and I was determined to stick to it. College was just the first rung in a tall ladder that would take me all the way to the top. By the time I graduated from college in May 2004 (that's right, finished a chemistry degree in 8 semesters, no summers :-) Yes I'm awesome) my life plans had already changed considerably. The plans I started college with were thrown out and morphed into something different by the time I left. My outlook on life had also changed, but I had no clue what curveballs grad school and adult life would throw my way.
I graduated from college ten years ago. TEN YEARS AGO. It blows my mind. Where did the time go? I'm not "just a few years out of college" anymore...I'm no longer a young alum or early career. I'm mid-career, experienced, grown. But the life that I have now barely resembles the life that I envisioned when I was a new graduate. Things didn't come as easily as I expected. Life doesn't follow a plan, and each time I felt I took a step forward, life knocked me backward. Along the way I also learned that some of the things I thought I wanted weren't things I desired at all. I learned to differentiate between wants and needs, between societal pressures and the desires of my heart. I grew confident in myself. I wrestled with a few demons. I've survived a broken heart and met the love of my life.
College was hard, but I had no idea that it was just a training ground for the difficulty that real grown-up life brings. This shit is hard! No one tells you that being a real grown-up is hard and scary. Sometimes you make bad decisions and they can be expensive - and not just in terms of money. I learned that the hard way. I made some major mistakes. I fell down numerous times. I wanted to give up. At one point I called my mom and asked her if she would still love me if I moved back home and slept on her couch cause I was at rock bottom (BTW she totally said I could but that I wouldn't need to cause I'm awesome and she loves me). I learned that life ebbs and flows, and each struggle made me better. It's cliché, but I learned what I was made of. A few people tried to break me, but I learned that I'm stronger than anyone thought.
Though the journey my life has taken did not lead me to my original destination, I learned to appreciate and enjoy the journey for what it was...or is, I should say, as it is still going. This life I have, it's not what I planned, but I find incredible joy in it. That joy keeps me from wondering about the life I thought I should have and keeps me focused on appreciating the life that was meant for me.