2013 Week 44: Letting go of embarrassment, the college years

A weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I can’t believe I lived with it for so long.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, a perception of my college years soured.

If rose-colored glasses shade your past in only the good light, then mud-colored glasses are what I’ve been wearing when I think of my four undergraduate years.

I don’t know how it happened that little by little, I forgot DePauw University. I forgot where buildings were, what I studied, my social life, my school work. Any time conversation touched on college, I felt it was a four-year blob of embarrassment I’d soon enough shove back into the box in which it was hiding.

But recently, as I reconnected with a woman who had been one of my best friends in that time, I stopped shoving the feelings down and started acknowledging them.

And with that acknowledgment came the logical follow-up question. Why? Why was this such a big deal? Why was I cringing at the thought of what so many say were the best years of their lives?

The next morning, a friend and former colleague posted a link on her Facebook page.

This one by a woman I’d never heard of, Seane Corn, a yoga instructor. I listened to it. Then I listened again. Then I listened one more time, pausing it so I could transcribe some of the parts that hit me like just the power wash I needed to clean that mud from my glasses.

This quote, for instance:

“… go back into your relationships and look at the value … where is grace? … If you can learn to love your journey for what it is, how it has been, that will create the possibility for empathy.”

The clip is just a couple of minutes, and worth your time if you’ve ever in your life questioned your past.

People who make you feel bad about yourself, who say mean things, do mean things, or even you in your own sense of victimization, it’s all a belief. If you see the “other” as more valuable, of having an opinion greater than your own, all you’re doing is allowing someone power over your experiences. If you see them as a human being just like you trying to make their way in the world, you can relate.

You don’t have to surround yourself, of course, with people who bring you down or live in a way you don’t approve.  Sometimes you have to cut people out of your life, divorce your friends, divorce your family, if they treat you poorly, without respect, in whatever negative way. So sayeth Oprah in this clip I found after getting all inspired.

But it’s interesting to realize how much power we give other people. Some people, like yours truly, may see this person or that as having a better lock on life, on cool, on the answer. Then we imagine what they think of us, then we respond accordingly.

I’ve read this quote a few places and I can’t seem to find a source that makes me comfortable sourcing it. Still, it fits here.

“I am not who you think I am. I am not who I think I am. I am who I think you think I am.”

There’s a psychological term for this. Metaperceptions. The notion that humans, in their search for acceptance, see themselves through the eyes of others.

From what this article in the journal Psychology Today said, it may even point to a level of social anxiety. Clinical or not, I’ve sure had my share of feeling like I don’t quite fit in the group. I wonder what they think of me. I stay quiet and appear aloof. And a small four-year institution is the epitome of fitting into groups.

Somehow I fit in. Somehow I didn’t. Through it all, as time passed and friendships slipped farther and farther away, I managed to let a handful of regrettable decisions or reactions to others’ decisions skew my emotions, my perception of this wild and crazy and wonderful time in my life.

Shortly after I started down this trail of discovery, I talked with another college friend I hadn’t seen in years and admitted the truth of my feelings. A funny thing began to happen. I started to see everything completely differently. It was as sudden as taking off a winter coat and feeling the warmth of the fireplace.

I started to remember the truth. That:

1. Many, many college kids do embarrassing things, feel embarrassed, at least some time in their four year career. This may seem obvious, it feels obvious writing it, but I honestly felt a giant spotlight on me and my flaws.

2. I had amazing friends. Whether we see each other now. Talk to each other on a regular basis. Or slipped past one another into our new lives outside the ivy-covered buildings. My friends were amazing and I cherish every one of them.

3. I learned so much about myself. I tried on a lot of different me-types back then. Putting aside all of the emotional growth that happens between ages 18 and 22, I learned some practical lessons. I learned I would never be a music teacher or a biologist. I was a writer. I learned that late in the game. Senior year, in fact. But once I stepped up to the plate, I had loads of support from advisers and professors and friends. I flew high that year and hope I can tap into that passion going forward.

Not only did I recall these things, by I was actually flooded with images. Memories. I could see my campus, classrooms, parties. Remember faces. Good God, the clothes. (I do not miss you, over-sized flannel button-downs.)

It feels so good, so obvious and right, to be back on my college memory’s good side that it’s difficult to recall how it felt to be so bothered just a couple of weeks ago.

I can say now, with full confidence, I have no regrets. I see the experience, as Corn said, without judging it (or people) as good or bad. I can see value in it all.

About Tara McLaughlin

I'm a stay-at-home mom to two girls in my boyfriend's hometown of Bern, Switzerland. Life as a new mom in a foreign country has been, in so many ways, rewarding and challenging. I will document that journey here, on Another 52 Weeks.
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3 Responses to 2013 Week 44: Letting go of embarrassment, the college years

  1. Heather says:

    Oooooo good one. Liked this, a lot. Some of us mucked it up after college, or yesterday for that fact……good encouragement!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Anne says:

    I really like your posts, you are an excellent writer. I can’t wait for your book!

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