If I had a penny for every time someone has told me that college is where one “finds oneself,” whatever that means, I’d have enough pennies to buy myself a Claire’s cake (Maybe? Not sure about the math on this one). Through my past three and a half years at Yale, however, I’ve come to see that more often than not, college is about losing oneself instead.
No, I’m not just talking about that one time freshman year when you got lost on your way to ADPhi or couldn’t find the pool at Payne Whitney as a second-semester senior (or was that just me?). I’m talking about the times you lost sight of your hopes and dreams. I’m talking about the times you questioned your choice of a major, or wondered why you hadn’t stuck with your original major instead. I’m talking about the times you thought or behaved in ways that your old, forgotten, pre-college self would have disapproved of, even despised. I’m talking about the times you looked at yourself in the mirror and flat-out did not recognize your reflection — metaphorically, of course (unless, as in my case, the freshman 15 rendered you virtually unrecognizable). I’m talking about the times you felt lost in the most Tom Hanks, “Cast Away” sense of the word — like somehow you, or that version of yourself you were once proud of, had somehow fallen off the map, off the face of the earth.
If you are even the slightest bit like me, it was at these times that you felt the most alone. If you are like me, you were too proud or too scared to admit that you were lost. Instead, you turned to that go-to line of your teenage years, the bane of your mother’s existence, the classic “no one understands me or what I’m going through,” and thus cemented your isolation. Rather than ask for directions, you consistently bottled your feelings up and cast them off to sea, pretending not to care if that glass bottle of yours became just as lost as you were, yet secretly hoping that someone, somewhere would find your bottle and sympathize, empathize, understand or maybe even write back.
I spent a long time basking in my isolation, sending those hopeless glass bottles out to sea. Perhaps there was some value in my remaining lost without seeking to be found; perhaps in order to ultimately find yourself, you have to lose yourself along the way. I may not know who I am yet, or who I want to be — but at least I know who I am not, and who I don’t want to be.
Looking back, however, I realize that I should have fired that flare gun, Morse-coded that SOS, screamed at the top of my lungs in acceptance of my lost state, in hopes of being found. Had I done so sooner, I would have realized that I wasn’t alone in that seemingly deserted island. I would have realized that so many of my peers were simply hiding amongst the foliage, just as frightened as I was to admit that they too were lost, that they too needed to be found. At least I know that, although lost, I am not alone — for every Tom Hanks, there’s always a Wilson.