Here we are. Victoria street lying before us like a roadmap to self-discovery. Echoing the stories and past mistakes of students long forgotten. Here we stand with endless possibilities going before us and possibilities disowned by despondent first years howling away with the gentle breeze of windy Stellenbosch.
Arriving on campus on our very first day we have this set idea of the being we want to be. The person we want to conquer and the extraordinary life we want to live. Walking to our first class observing the hugs of friends and the conversations of friendships just formed we all have that welcome expectancy of similar embraces, spontaneous meetings, and the lifelong friends we are going to make in the years to come. Your very own breakfast gang.
We make the mistake of offering up five years of our lives trying to fit in, reassuring ourselves that the moment we leave high school we will finally be able to be our non-conformity selves. Subsequently, I see souls yearning to be accepted for who they really are (their quirky not-so-perfect-selves ); and individuality deteriorating and being right there with the rhinos on the ‘ Things we don’t expect on seeing any more’.
We walk out of high school, relieved to know that the age of pretense and fitting in has come to an end. With our matric certificate in our right hand it feels like we can breathe again for the first time. Inhale freedom and exhale five years of wanting, needing and bellowing for acceptance. We walk out of the gates that kept us jailed for so long, kept us neat, kept us orderly and kept us similar – either liberated because we never conformed to the pressurized idea of being a part of the so-called In group or despondent for giving in to what we then thought would be the end of our worlds. Even being the second our soul lights up with the possibility of finally being our non-conformative selves as soon as our feet hit the smoldering pavement of Victoria street. New season- new me. Or rather in every 18 yo case, University – the real me. We enter Uni thinking that school politics, hierarchy and the exhausting game of Mean girls are left behind at the gate of our not so longed for High schools. We are wrong. So very wrong.
I can almost promise you that most of us have had the undeniable urge “To Be A Part” of something greater than ourselves. Something bigger than the world of our small individual existence. This urge is somewhat expected of us as first-year students. We almost receive a year-pass, a get out of jail free card. Because how will we find ourselves if we don’t first lose ourselves first – right?
It has not even been two weeks since the start of a new Semester and already I have been confronted with the gut-wrenching truth of human existence. We have an undeniable need to be accepted and affirmed by society. Everything we do, we do with hesitation. Everything we say, we say with caution. Everything we wear, we wear with doubt. Gone are the days of forging our own paths, conquering our own devils and living a life by design.
Girls, this one is for you.
I see how in our oblivion we hold on to the groups we formed in high school as if our lives depend on it. Forget about 5000 other people just waiting to enrich our lives. I see how the fear of not belonging (better known as the fear of missing out) – drives us to ignore the part of us that would much rather stay in on a Friday night, watch hopeless romantics and drink and EnRoute Ice Coffee till midnight hours.
The fear of not being able to keep up, not being invited to the next Wilgenhof social or merely being excluded from the only social stability you’ve known since you bonded over One Direction coming to South Africa – that fear is slowly eating away at the part of you who thought that this time it was going to be different. That this year you were going to be different.
I call this the real first year’s syndrome.
There is so much more beyond the you-you force yourself to be- and you you really want to be. Beneath this undeniable need that we all come to face are a lot of underlying issues to be addressed. Issues such as, why do we idealize a certain group of people when it is very clear that even they are not satisfied with who they are? Why are we scared of facing our own thoughts or company and rather fill every thinkable quiet moment with the next best hype? Why do we convince ourselves that this is the life we love living and that the empty feeling inside is just us not giving it our all (maybe next time will be better)? Why are we so hesitant in owning who it is we are and believing that person has a gift this world is missing out on.
To every first-year girl, wherever you are sitting asking yourself these very questions. If you have lost yourself in the rush for being temporarily accepted. Welcome to the club. But if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that the downside of compromising on the life you want to live, is living with the fact that you could be so much more but have let other peoples perceptions shape you. That feeling is so much worse than being a little bit different, a little bit unique and a whole lot happier.
Be the you, you want to be. Get out of that comfort zone. Don’t allow yourself to regret not finding another part of your being in the various people around you- other than those you have come accustomed to like. You might be surprised, your destiny, your life long friends, your happiness could be waiting at the other side of your unquenchable need to be good enough for someone else.