Iâ€™m used to the idea that most Trinity students are wiser than I was in college. Itâ€™s okay; I was a late bloomer. And so, when you finish reading this column, you might ask yourself, â€œSo what?â€ But maybe you wonâ€™t, and if you donâ€™t, youâ€™re the exact person to whom Iâ€™m writing.
You: the one who feels a little down on yourself at the moment. Youâ€™re pretty sure you could be doing better. Youâ€™re still really shy and you wish you didnâ€™t get so tongue-tied when you talked to professors you respect. You should be waking up earlier and working out more. You worry that you might be kind of flaky. You need to procrastinate less and get more organized. You know you should be more ambitious but you just donâ€™t know how to be ambitious. Also, you need to stop badmouthing your friends; it isnâ€™t nice.
When older people tell you that youâ€™ve got your whole life ahead of you, what you really see is how your whole life looms ahead of you. It looks like a storm cloud made of question marks. Graduation seems like a door at the edge of a chasm, and youâ€™re really not sure whatâ€™s going to happen when you cross that threshold, but you know that on the other side is adulthood. On the other side is your life.
And if youâ€™re like I was in college, you think that the end of college is the end of growing up. You think that once you walk through that door, youâ€™ll be a fully formed adult. That who you are when you graduate is who youâ€™re going to be forever.
Itâ€™s easy to think that way because an infinite number of graduation cards reinforce this notion. Theyâ€™re almost always blue. Blue, as in, the endless sky, the wild blue yonder, the future. â€œCongratulations on growing up,â€ they might as well all read, â€œHereâ€™s $20!â€
Hereâ€™s the thing, though. Graduation isnâ€™t the end of growing up. Youâ€™ll keep changing and, if you do it right, youâ€™ll keep growing. You arenâ€™t the â€˜youâ€™ you will be in five years or 10. You may yet become the person who gets up early and doesnâ€™t procrastinate. Youâ€™ll learn how to speak without sounding like an idiot. Youâ€™ll figure out how to pursue what (and whom) you love. Youâ€™ll get to the gym. Youâ€™ll change.
And so will everyone else. That incredibly awkward girl in your econ class? Sheâ€™ll grow up. That jerk you dated sophomore year? S/he will too.
The secret of adulthood is that weâ€™re all still growing up. Most of us are still trying to be better at being ourselves, no matter how old we are. And the people who arenâ€™t trying â€” who believe they canâ€™t change â€” are already a little dead inside, no matter how young they might be. Donâ€™t be dead inside.
You arenâ€™t the you you will be.
How can I be so sure? That â€œyouâ€ up there? That was once me.
Kelly Carlisle, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the department of English.