By Francesca Gugino
Sometimes the easiest way to justify screwing up is to tell yourself something along the lines of “I’m still figuring it out” or “I haven’t found out who I am yet”, or “I’m a little lost, but I’ll find myself”.
Those phrases may be describing how you feel about life, particularly if you’re a freshman in college and are making an effort to be the real you but also wishing to find a group that accepts you, if you haven’t already.
Usually, all the cliches are true and you were just experimenting, and you just don’t know what you like or what you’re meant to do or who you’re meant to be.
If you knew me before the whole college thing, you would have known a girl who never broke a rule, studied every night, was really into sports and obsessed with health, had really never been invited to a party, a real party with underage drinking and possibly some other risque substances, but honestly wouldn’t have agreed to go if she was, a girl who spent her summers coaching and working and volunteering.
Everyone called me mature for my age and that’s why high school wasn’t my thing, so I just kept doing my own thing. But, I was scared, and alone- identity-less. I had no idea who I wanted to be, but worse I hadn’t the slightest clue of who I was in the moment.
I know that exactly a year ago today, I was the worst version of myself because I was trying to grow and move into the next phase of life, trying to adapt to college and new people and a new environment and new everything, and doing it completely wrong.
I was burying myself in things that I didn’t even know if I liked, and I sunk deeper into the hole, falling without ever having a moment to catch myself. Slipping further away from the girl I used to be, gaining an identity that I wish I never did.
How did I turn from the straightest of edges and strictest of line to the wildest of partiers? From late nights at the library to weeknights at the local bar? It wasn’t me. I wasn’t her. I am not her.
But, it was the mask I hid behind because I didn’t want to be that girl who everyone labeled me as. I was sick of being the one who never got into trouble, the one who always made a good choice… I was sick of the expectations.
It didn’t start like that exactly though, I chose to do a pre-freshman orientation service trip and I loved it and all of the people I met through it. I was in the honors program, taking courses with awesome professors, practicing 6 days a week, working in the ESL department, but I hated who everyone thought I was. Which seems pretty absurd now because I am trying to get back to her, trying to blend my identities, trying to still remain the studious, loving, past version of me with the feminist, independent, outgoing, NARP version of me.
At the time, I wanted to show everyone that I knew how to have fun, but more so I wanted to show myself that I could fit in. But there is no reason to fit in when you’re meant to stand out. I should have never tried to limit myself by forcing myself to be someone I’m not.
So, I had to change it. I had to do something drastic. I had to get myself back. To be the person I always had been, just too afraid to show it.
I got accepted to two summer teaching internships, one in Costa Rica and one in Haiti, and I took them without a second thought. I knew it was my way out, and I needed the escape, I needed something, anything, everything to be different. And I fell in love with it. With the kids. With the languages.With the new place. With the revival of me.
The mistakes I made freshman year helped me to understand and learn and grow, moving away from the things that didn’t suit me and were toxic to my life, while slowly figuring out me.
Finally, I made the choice to move on from all of the things I found out that I disliked, to transfer to Canisius, to pull my life together, to finally be Francesca.
It became so easy after figuring out who I wasn’t.
The first few days were hard, I had no one, or so it seemed. I went through the motions. Wake up. Coffee. Class. Library. Class. Library. Dinner. Repeat.
It sucked. So I put myself out there. I made a few friends, went to a party, joined the clubs I have always wanted to, listened to music that felt relatable, made relationships with my professors, went to school events… I participated…. I am still participating.
That’s what made it start to come together, I think. Having an active role in my own life, figuring out who I wasn’t was so important freshman year. Because now I am blossoming and slowly realizing who I am.
This time I know that I am not dependent on anyone. I am strong. I am vibrant. I am intelligent. I love literature. I love poetry. I love Spanish. My new friends are really cool. My favorite music is not from this decade. My favorite thing to do is go thrift shopping, especially on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because I get a pretty good discount. My hair is pretty short now, but it suits me better than before. I quit my job because let’s face it, I’m a pretty bad waitress anyway. I still drink black coffee and read Langston Hughes poems in the comfort of my itty-bitty Delevan shoe-box, with my elephant wax melter making my room smell like spiced caramel vanilla. So I guess some things did stay the same, even if everything falls apart for a little bit.
It’s okay to realize who you’re not without finding who you are yet.
You have the rest of your life to discover more about the world and more about yourself, for now its okay to mess up, its okay to experiment, because each mistake will bring you closer to the next right decision, and you’ll slowly understand where you’re not meant to be.
Just think, you’re a few steps closer to where you want to be and who you truly are. Because it’s okay not to have your shit figured out yet. Freshman year is full of mistakes and doing the wrong thing, and maybe so is sophomore and junior and senior year… but it can only go up from here.
Take your time figuring it out. Try everything that seems appealing. Take a few risks, preferably controlled ones but risks nonetheless. And know that if you don’t know who you are right now, you are not alone.