I wish someone had told me sooner, you know.
Had told me that it is quite okay – more than okay, even – to enjoy learning.
That diving into a book for a class without coming up for air simply because the words seem in that moment even more necessary for your survival than oxygen – this is okay.
I probably wouldn’t have listened, I suppose, if someone had tried to tell me. I spent the majority of high school watering down my language, picking up odd bits of vernacular like puzzle pieces in an effort to fit in with my peers. Putting up dozens of Facebook statuses with repeated consonants that now make me cringe.
Mall timeeeeee <333
I hid myself behind an identity in which I appeared just intelligent enough to stand out, but which did not alienate me from the in-group of my high school class. I cultivated the persona of The Cool Smart Girl, the one from whom answers were playfully wrung in the back of classrooms. Coolly detached from schoolwork because school, everyone told me, was something of a prison. It was a one-dimensional kind of identity – Smart and Cool but never really Clever or Witty or Interesting or any other thing that I would learn later I could be without a hint of shame. I was never Beautiful; in high school Smart and Beautiful are mutually exclusive.
And then I came to college and for the first two years, I was Intelligent, yes, and boys told me I was Cute, yes, and I worked hard for the high marks I received in each class. I made friendships that mattered, but I floundered. When asked what I would like to do with my degree, I felt the weight of a meaningless answer on my tongue.
It’s incredible how nothingness can taste so very bitter.
But this year. Oh this year marks a change I feel so deeply, somewhere in the pit of my stomach where I believe the soul actually sleeps. Faced with professors who have challenged me not only to succeed academically but to enjoy the journey to that success, my mindset has shifted remarkably. I have suddenly found myself surrounded by people for whom the learning process itself is the stuff of dreams, whose own success in their career is as a direct result of how passionately they adore the subjects they teach. A few weeks ago, I remarked to one of my professors – a woman whose delight in Shakespeare even at 9 in the morning is contagious: “Perhaps I could be like you – a professor. I really never want to leave school.”
She paused and looked at me, eyes sparkling.
“Oh no,” she told me, shaking her head. “You’re just like me.”
I feel as if I have blossomed this semester, yielded myself up to some sunshine I had avoided facing for years in fear that it would actually shrivel me. I feel more beautiful and more confident in my intelligence than I have ever felt before, and I have noticed a change in the reactions people have to me.
I know now that I can be interesting without having to appear detached from my work.
I know now that my passions define me, and these passions feed on the words I am reading, the discussions I am having (both in the classroom and with my friends), and the thoughts I am writing down for fear that if I keep them contained I might burst.
I know now that there is pride in desiring to learn from those who have already taken the steps down this path. I can be successful as well as incredibly happy. I can be Smart and Beautiful and Clever and Witty and anything else I wish to be.
And sometimes I wish someone had told me sooner. But I know I had to find this out all on my own.