I write to you from Sprout Cafe, a casual “eco-urban” (did I just make that up) restaurant on the Eastern side of University Avenue in sunny Palo Alto, California. I ordered a portobello mushroom sandwich a couple minutes ago, but now I’m starting to wish I ordered something with more protein… I’m getting real hungry. Like the kind of hungry when you start to see spots… whoa.
So perhaps you are wondering why I am at — OH JUST GOT MY SANDWICH BRB —
*1 minute later*
That was good.
Anyways, I’m eating off campus because school is out for the year and campus feels like a freaky, desolate, ghost town. The buildings are all the same, but inside and outside, there’s only tourists and families. It’s freaking me out. One thing I’ve learned about myself recently is that I feel best when I’m surrounded by people. If I’m alone in a room for too long, I start to feel a knot forming in the back of my throat and my stomach starts to turn. I feel very lonely and upset and anxious and sad. Yes, I’ve learned a lot about myself this year. In fact, that’s what this here post is all about.
The past nine months have been, quite frankly, some of the most challenging of my life. HOLD ON WAIT– This post isn’t a gathering for a pity party. I’m not whining, and I don’t need anyone to virtually rub my back and whisper sweet nothings into my ear. (But raincheck, maybe?) I simply want to take a look over my metaphorical shoulder and share with you what I have taken away, in retrospect, from the worst school year of my life. (Ugh. So negative.)
Just so you know, I’ve gone through about a dozen different drafts of this post. You see, I want to provide you, Dear Reader, with a post that has at least some semblance of a narrative arc, but my thoughts regarding sophomore year are far from cohesive. As much as I stare unwaveringly at this spiky aloe-looking plant-thing next to me and reflect on this past year, every new thought that pops into my head is more jumbled than the last. I’ll do my best, but just know that what you’re getting here is more a stream of consciousness at time when I’m not yet far enough away from sophomore year to start summing it up nicely.
Here goes nothing!
Let’s start at the beginning. Freshman year for many people, including myself, is a time for exploration and discovery of new ideas, people, and of the self. Freshmen are encouraged to try wacky classes, to not lock into a major too early, and to get outside of their comfort zone. Frosh dorms are also equipped with phenomenal, dedicated staff and resident fellows who are eager to implement programming, ranging in scale from ski trips at Lake Tahoe to late night conversations over a cup of herbal tea, to make freshman year as painless—and FUN—as possible.
Then, at the beginning of sophomore year, the tone of student life faces a paradigm shift. Suddenly, I was no longer encouraged to explore, and my residential support system was practically non-existent. (I never met a single one of my RAs this year. Wouldn’t know them if I sat right next to them in a class.) I was left in the dark, panicking, wondering what ever happened to the Stanford I thought I knew.
I was left in the dark, panicking, wondering what ever happened to the Stanford I thought I knew.
I didn’t know how to react to these changes, so Fall Quarter involved a lot of waiting. I was waiting for everything to settle into place, for Suites to start feeling like home– for Stanford to start feeling like home.
The truth is, Stanford never went back to feeling exactly like it did freshman year. But DON’T LOSE HOPE young twenty nineteener weiner reading this post— Bear with me for the good news. (I think I’m getting a grip on an arc here…)
Right at the end of Fall Quarter, I decided I no longer wanted to be a Communication major. Yes, I dove headfirst into being one of the 90%* of students who change their major before they graduate. I made my decision while I was studying for my COMM 120W final. I can go into further detail on why I wanted to switch majors in a later post, but ultimately I felt the major’s approach to the discipline was too theoretical. I wanted my major to be more empirical, so I came back to school at the beginning of Winter Quarter with two potential majors in mind: “Symbolic Systems” and “Science, Technology and Society.”
Having to choose my major was the catalyst for the slumpiest part of my slump. In order to decide on a major, I had to think about what I wanted in a career. In thinking about what I wanted in a career, I had to consider what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In order to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life—as if that’s not a daunting enough question to for a barely 20 year-old to be asking herself—I had to consider what my life values are, and if those needed to change.
In order to decide on a major, I had to decide on a career. In order to decide on a career, I had to how I want to spend the rest of my life.
In this way, choosing a major felt like choosing my entire life path. All of a sudden, my biggest concern went from “Who should I ask to be Shannon’s screw-your-roommate date?” to “In what order should I work in industry, start a company, go to business school, and start a family?”
For a while, I was convinced that if I didn’t get a B.S. degree in a highly technical major, then there was no way I was going to get a job after college. I was influenced by the “fuzzy” (*cringes*) “techy” (*cringes*) divide within student culture, which I talked about in detail in my blog post “W for Wisdom.” In retrospect, I think I was/am blowing the “hierarchy” of majors described in that piece somewhat out of proportion in my mind. During Winter Quarter when I was still considering SymSys—and admittedly, now— I am constantly suspicious of my peers, convinced that they are consciously judging me when I tell them what my major isn’t. (I have a feeling most of that is in my head. More to come.)
I spent virtually all of Winter Quarter consumed with angst over what other people thought of me. I wanted to validate my existence at Stanford, this hub of genius in the heart of Silicon Valley, the technology capital of the world. I thought that maybe if I got a Computer Science degree and went into the technology industry, then my peers would see that I am smart and valuable, and THEN I could be proud of myself. But so long as I was considering getting a B.A., I was an outlier—a “fuzzy”—and my unhealthy dependence on others to make me feel fulfilled combined with this apparent truth meant a drop in confidence to levels lower than they had ever been before.
I thought that maybe if I got a Computer Science degree and went into the technology industry, then my peers would see that I am smart and valuable, and THEN I could be proud of myself.
I rode out three classes within the SymSys core during Winter Quarter. It wasn’t until I was severely railed in the butt by my CS 103 (Mathematical Foundations of Computers) midterm that I stopped to think about just what the hell I was doing. I remember on one particular afternoon, I sprawled out on the floor of my bedroom and cried to my dad on the phone for two hours as I contemplated dropping CS 103. I didn’t want to quit on SymSys. Because of the major “hierarchy”, I viewed switching out of a technical major as a sign of weakness.
“But Catherine,” my dad said with that cool yet concerned tone only fathers can strike so perfectly, “you don’t like math and science. You never have. That major, it just doesn’t seem you.”
Lying there boca arriba on my disgusting bedroom carpet, mascara smudged under my eyes, I thought, “Wait…YEAH. WTF? How did I get here?!” (Lol wouldn’t be the first time) (Just kidding) (Or am I)
The Turning Point
Thursday of Week 8 Winter Quarter 2016 was the day I dropped CS 103, and with it, the idea that I needed immediate external approval from my peers in order to achieve ultimate success. It was the first step towards taking control of my academic and social lives again. It was the first action born of my decision to not live my life on other people’s terms. It was the beginning of my un-slump. (And Shannon was right there, holding my hand the entire time :))
I came back to Stanford at the beginning of Spring Quarter feeling centered. I was ready to start actively fighting back against all the voices in my head (not real voices, dw) telling me my interests in culture, media, and communication weren’t important. I was ready to start believing that my drive would prevent me from going down a meaningless path. I was ready to stop hating Stanford for not giving me the hand-holding support I craved, and to take on the opportunity to learn how to walk on my own.
I was ready to stop hating Stanford for not giving me the hand-holding support I craved, and to take on the opportunity to learn how to walk on my own.
I decided to stop hating Suites. No, it wasn’t Larkin, but I got to live in close quarters with 9 super cool women over the course of the year, and I was only a 30 second walk away from most of my closest friends living in Yost. We also had a huge TV, a private patio, a huge living room, an indoor balcony, two private bathrooms, a professional chef… yeah. You get the idea.
I got more involved in my extracurriculars. I started my own initiative within Stanford Women in Business, called SWIB Allies, which offered non-female members of the undergraduate population a place to become educated on the issues of gender inequality in the workplace. I ran on a slate for Junior Class President with five of the most incredible people I know, and we WON. I applied to be an RA in a frosh dorm and I GOT THE JOB! Pretty soon, I’m going to have the opportunity to give to the incoming class what my RAs once gave to me.
I spent more time and energy (and units) studying the things I truly care about, like how the news and entertainment industries influence consumers’ perceptions of entire cultural groups and how mass mediated messages impact people’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors regarding mmmbasically EVERYTHING. *Head explodes in slow motion*
I listened to more funny podcasts like My Brother, My Brother, and Me. I rediscovered the Vlogbrothers on YouTube. I painted pretty pictures. I took naps outside on hot days. I wrote poems. I journaled more. I went on more runs. I made more videos. I realigned and did things that were very “me.”
I’m not at Sprout Cafe anymore– I’m at this bougie lil Italian cafe further up University Avenue called Cafe Venezia. Check it out, they have this great indoor balcony with a view over the main level:
They stay open til 11 pm and I have every intention of staying here until closing, partly because the amount of sugar in this mocha is giving me heart palpitations and if I have a medical emergency I want to make sure there are people around to help, and partly because I know I get that knotted up, “off” feeling when I’m in the creepy ghost suite by myself. It’s an “off” feeling that reminds me of how I felt for the greater part of this past year—quite lonely and incredibly lost.
I’m happy to put sophomore year behind me, DR. Though as rough as it may have been, sophomore year was a year of necessary growth. If my values had not been called into question, I would not feel as confident as I do now in the ones I have chosen. To be honest, I also gained a lot from not having everything handed to me all wrapped up in a little bow and served to me on a silver platter. I had to learn how to seek out resources on my own, how to ask for help, and how to Ctrl+Alt+Delete when it’s what was best for me.
It’s been a year of extraordinary growth indeed, DR, but I am not done growing. HAHAHA God no. Not even close. I still have lots more to learn about life, about feeling confident, about being a role model (looking at you, @cic.fanpage), about intimacy, about the future, about spirituality, about love, and probably about lots more things that I can’t anticipate yet. But for the first time in a long time, Dear Reader, I am excited— truly and wholly excited— for the learning experience ahead.
For the first time in a long time, I am excited— truly and wholly excited— for the learning experience ahead.
So f*CK ME UP, LIFE. Go on and hit me with your best shot. I know whatever you throw at me, I’ve got my fam (biological and non), mes amis, and my beautiful Dear Readers supporting me all the way. Oh–and just a heads up, I plan on making you my bitch. My time in this crazy beautiful world is finite. I intend to make my mark.