“The past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why we call it the present.”
Throughout high school, I constantly found myself wishing the days away, and college was often the only thing on my mind. I couldn’t get out of my hometown fast enough; figuring that I would leave for college and never look back.
I didn’t appreciate the value of family, and didn’t understand the meaning of true friendship. I tried to live life according to a mental image that I had pre-set for myself, panicking if something even slightly deviated from my plan. It wasn’t until an unexpected turn of events, beginning a new chapter in my life, and a growth of my faith that I finally realized I am the key to my own happiness, but not the sovereign of my future.
Through many hardships, I have learned to enjoy every moment and not to stress myself out with the things that are out of my control. Back in my high school days, and even into my early college years, I would worry about every minor detail that went awry.
From something as small as which prom group I was invited into, to as big as what would happen if I didn’t get into the school of my dreams, everything just had to work out as I had prepared.
But I quickly found out that life doesn’t work this way, no matter how hard you try. For as long as I can remember, my Saturdays have been spent between the hedges cheering on the Dawgs, while simultaneously admiring all of the cheerleaders below that I aspired to be. Sanford Stadium was the one place that I felt comfortable and completely at home because many of my childhood memories took place there.
I was in for an unexpected reality check when I quickly went from the excited high school cheerleader driving up to see my role models on the sidelines, to being the average college student watching the game from the stands.
Being the planner that I am, I previously had my entire college career envisioned. I would be on the UGA cheerleading team; simple as that…right? Wrong.
“Crack.” The cringing sound that still lingers in my head and haunts me to this day. The cringing sound that would end my cheerleading career. The cringing sound that would shatter my dream.
To this day, I can still clearly visualize the 9-foot tumble out of the arms of my teammates onto the unwelcoming foam mat. I can still feel the excruciating pain shooting up and down the right side of my body, scared to make the slightest movement. I can still hear the hissing silence of my teammates, waiting to take a breath before they made sense of what just happened.
One simple slip of my base’s hand led me crashing to the ground, unexpectedly changing my life forever. From that moment on, I knew that all of the preparation that I had done had just gone flying out the window. My broken leg would cause me to miss UGA cheerleading tryouts, and there was nothing I could do to change it. Thankfully, I got accepted early admission to The University of Georgia without the help of cheerleading, so my hard work, planning, and high test scores paid off.
However, I still felt as if I was living a life on a pedestal according to other people’s standards, constantly trying to people-please and caring way too much about other’s opinions. I let my “friends” walk all over me, and my acquaintances influence my behavior. I probably could have fooled you, but I was anything but happy. If I can pinpoint an all-time low in my life, I would definitely have no problem choosing my transition into college.
I was completely lost and felt like I had wasted my entire life looking forward to something that was no longer in the cards. I frequently found myself wandering down memory lane, putting myself back on the sidelines of those Friday night football games or Spring Break trips to Panama City.
I was finally living in Athens like I had always dreamed, but all I could think about was how badly I wanted those high school days back; the youth that I had previously taken advantage of. Those days didn’t seem all that great at the time, but that’s the problem with our memory. It has a funny way of only retaining the positive experiences, and conveniently forgetting the negative.
It was an opportunity that many teenagers would kill for, yet I didn’t appreciate or take full advantage of it. So after much debate, I decided to accept the past and follow a new path, deciding to go through sorority rush.
It started out as a tough adjustment going from my well-known identity in high school to an average, unknown student in college, but I was adjusting better than I thought that I would. Yet even as I started becoming closer to my sorority sisters and meeting so many new people on a daily basis, I still felt lost and off-balance.
I no longer had my “cheerleader” image to rely on, so I had to work hard to develop a new identity, forcing me to get out of my comfort zone and learn so much about myself.
At first, I struggled with finding a happy medium. I used alcohol to fuel my social interactions and mask my awkwardness, proving to be far more personable with the help of some liquid courage. I was becoming very social, but I quickly realized that the friendships that I was forming based on drunken-nights downtown were surface level. They were a large improvement from many of the unauthentic friendships that I endured in high school, but I still felt very alone.
I became more outgoing, independent, and confident in who I was, without needing validation from others. I’m not perfect.
In fact, I’m nowhere near it. I’m stubborn, but I’ll admit when I’m wrong. I complain at times, but I am always trying to please others. I forgive too quickly, but only because I value relationships too much to let stupid arguments affect them. I can be quick to judge others, yet I know how crappy it feels to be judged. I am clumsy and trip at least twice a day, but I am an athletic person who knows how to get up and shake it off.
I am the definition of awkward, but I am also one of the most social people you will ever meet. I do embarrassing things, but I know how to laugh at myself. My imperfections may not make me flawless, but they make me…me.
I have grown as a person, and improved as a friend. I am not the same person that I was four years ago, and I will not be the same person four years from now. My experiences, although I didn’t realize it at the time, have shaped me into who I am today.
I have realized the importance of taking it day by day. College has made me appreciate the meaning of true friendship, where people accept you for who you are. Or they don’t, and you learn to get over it. I have realized that some people have been placed in my life for a reason, some for a season, a few just for now, and others for forever.
I no longer try to impress anyone or live up to expectations. I am not going to stress myself out about the future, or keep living life in the past. I have had more fun in my college years than I ever thought possible. I have made friends that would bend over backwards for me; those who will pick me up from downtown at two in the morning so I don’t have to walk home alone, bring me coffee when I am late-night cramming for midterms at the SLC, or stay awake for hours on end having meaningful conversations when they know I am on the verge of a break down.
I have realized the importance of family and faith, confident in the fact that I always have a comforting home to come to when the stresses of life become too overwhelming. I have a God that will always love me more than I could ever imagine, even on the days that I still struggle to love myself.
I do not know the answers to the repeated questions from friends and family members over the break about my plans following graduation. I may not have a set job lined up, or a guaranteed career path ahead of me, but I do know that I will live every day to the fullest. I will not let expenses get in the way of my desire to travel. I will not let others’ opinions transform me.
So for now, I will focus on becoming the best version of myself, pursuing my passions, and defining my self-worth in the One who truly matters. Everything else will follow. We don’t definitively know our forever. We don’t even know our tomorrow. But we can make the most of our now.
Each day is a gift, which is why they call it the present.
Lastly, Rachel heads to Australia after graduation … If you would like to support her travels, please feel free: https://www.fundmytravel.com/campaign/hAbjOqJuK5