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To be a true adult, you do not always have to be independent

May 27, 2018
By Lizzy Ehren '18, Staff Writer

I often lead with “throwback to when” or “I’ll never forget” to spark conversations with new and old friends alike. I thoroughly enjoy creating photo collages to remember past good times and the faces of loved ones. I even write letters to friends over one break, wanting to bring back the lost tradition of letter writing. In other words, I am unabashedly cheesy. I am over-the-top sentimental. And, I hate leaving the past behind.

When writing this piece, I struggled for so long how to begin. Because as someone who hates saying goodbye, what words can express the mixture of sadness, anxiety and relief my impending graduation brings? Not surprisingly, all of my original ideas felt cheesy and ungenuine. I thought to myself - share your favorite Carleton memories. Talk about how much you love your friends, professors, and mentors. Share your Carleton tips and tricks. But, nothing felt right. Every idea felt forced, without the nuances and ups and downs of my Carleton career.

Then, in my brainstorming journey down memory lane, I began to think of something maybe a bit too honest and vulnerable to write about in a public forum: the biggest mistake I made in college. There is a longer list than I like to admit of people I wronged, times I utterly failed and lessons learned too late at Carleton. Yet, one lesson - stretching all four years - stuck out in my mind.

In order to fully understand this mistake, I need to begin with a success of my time at Carleton. Nervous and a complete pushover, my high school self consequently doubted my ability to make it on my own, without the constant love and support of my family at home. The first year of college, I lived away from home for the first time, acting as both a friend and a parent to many of my peers and learning to take care of myself without the watchful, kind eyes of my mother. Then, for my second year of college, I spent part of a winter break and the summer in Washington DC. In the city, I learned to navigate a new place and hold a professional job. Overall, I gained the confidence and skills to make it on my own during these first two years of college.

Yet, this newfound confidence - while important in my college development - was not achieved without consequences. I pushed my family away at times. Trying to prove how independent I had become, I acted as if I did not need them to succeed. And, my constant need to show them how well I was doing and how happy I was came off, sometimes, as bragging about my life and newly discovered independence.

In many ways, this attitude also affected my relationships with my friends. By attempting to illustrate how confident and level-headed I aspired to be, I often refused to show my sadness, anger, or frustration to them. I thought allowing friends to support me - to take care of me - on my hard days equated to weakness, a chink in my newfound armour. This mindset, I’ve realized, was a critical mistake. Each time I just wanted to a hug from a friend or to call my mother and cry was overshadowed by this ridiculous notion that to be a true adult I needed to be independent, all the time.

So, my biggest error led to my most important lesson. A lesson achieved through a long conversation with one of my best friends in a small apartment in Rome and through countless conversations with my father about the person I hope to become. I learned that while I am a strong, independent woman with the ability to function on my own, I should not - and do not want to - go through life on my own. A true supportive friend, parent, or significant other will not think less of you when you need a moment to cry or scream or rant. True strength is not paving your path without any help from peers, mentors or family. True strength is admitting when you need and want help. True strength is recognizing your own limits and asking for support as you push them.

Now, when a close friend asks how my day has been, I don’t brush off the question with “good,” unless that answer rings true. Now, when my brother asks about my classes, I tell him the failures, in addition to the successes. Now, when a professor asks about graduation, I refuse to only smile and say “feeling excited.” I am still far from perfect. I still sometimes hide my emotions, reverting to the tough, independent adult exterior I imagined for myself. But, I am improving.

So, here it is. The cheesy takeaway. The Dove chocolate phrase of the day. The repeated thesis in the conclusion. College offers an amazing opportunity to gain a newfound sense of independence by travelling the world, working all over the country or just simply finding yourself in a new home. Take full advantage of this moment by challenging yourself to embrace situations, which force you find the self-confidence to face the world after graduation - whether that is studying abroad or taking a class you know nothing about.

College also offers an amazing opportunity to gain lifelong friends, faculty and staff mentors, and professional contacts. In the campus microcosm, the people here see each other at their finest and lowest moments. So, as scary as it may be, embrace this community. For some, it may be one close friend. For others, it may be a beloved professor. No matter what form or size, let your Carleton network support you. Ask them questions that scare you. Tell them how you truly feel. Make all the terrible puns and jokes you hold inside out of fear of embarrassment.

I hope this article, even if your personality is vastly different than mine, reminds you to cherish the people you love at Carleton and the people you love outside of Northfield, MN. And to my Carleton community - here comes the last bit of cheese - I can only say thank you for asking me to aim higher and encouraging me to stop apologizing for not always exemplifying my perfect self. I love you all.

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