Finding oneself in the crowd

By Hannah Sparks

Photo courtesy of Hannah Sparks
Photo courtesy of Hannah Sparks

My skin crawls with the cliché, but its truth is undeniable: I found myself at college.

It was inevitable, of course, but I still don’t know quite how I did it.

There are more than 20,000 students on this campus, each of them living their own lives, dealing with their own private trials and tribulations, secret to the world around them. How was I, a lone wolf by nature, supposed to find myself amongst the masses? Especially when, at 18, I was desperate not to conform, not to become “one of them?”

The individuality of individuals has always amazed and captivated me, especially living in such a densely populated place. We see each other but our impassive glances and blank expressions reveal nothing. Reflecting each other as accurately and inaccurately as mirrors, we are at once both intensely familiar and hopelessly foreign to one another.

All of this shouldn’t fascinate me as much as it does. Maybe I’m just a chronic people-watcher. But, as I learned, there is liberation in getting lost in the crowd.

The truth is, I used to be afraid. Afraid of the world, the people inhabiting it, the things I had to do to make myself feel like one of them. I used to be angry, too, and for years, I made a million excuses for myself. I felt that the deck was stacked against me; I made up reasons for why I couldn’t reach my potential only because I was too afraid to embrace it.

I was, at one time, my own worst enemy, a ruthless self-saboteur. No more. Being forced to face my failings in the mirrored scrutiny of my peers and the echo of my own pretexts and denials broke me of that habit.

Eventually, I embraced it – all of it – with strong, open arms. I won’t get too specific about what exactly I embraced, but it involved travel, writing for and joining the amazing Collegian, making resumes and doing internships of the unpaid variety.

All of those things that I was so foolishly afraid of before, or, stubbornly, simply didn’t want to do, became vital parts of my everyday life. It was a no-duh moment, one most had reached a long time before I did. But for me, it was a revelation.

Looking back, I just wish I’d made the realization a little sooner.

It all happened during a time in which I began to strongly believe in fate, when my future-conscious mantra was “it will all work out in the end.” I repeated it in my mind like a prayer, and eventually, it was answered. Not by some supernatural agent or God-like figure that I don’t believe in anyway, but by me.

Once I get an idea in my mind, it may as well be written in stone. Now, more than ever, I need to remind myself of that. We all do. We all need to believe in fate a little, tell ourselves that someday, a coherent narrative will arise from the chaos that is this moment.

To be afraid, and to avoid taking action in our lives because we’re afraid, is one of the worst ways we limit ourselves.

I didn’t “find myself” at the bottom of a bottle or after waking up in a stranger’s bed. I didn’t find myself after watching a movie or reading a book or returning home from a life-changing summer abroad (though I did get to have one of those and it was wonderful). That’s just not my style.

I found myself when, after some misfortune or another, I had to shed another skin, heal another wound, purge myself of the impurities I had indulged in for too long and move on. After some grandiose passion burned out in dramatic fashion (the way a light bulb tends to emit one final, brighter burst of light before going dark), I would find myself blissfully rational, clear-headed, never looking back but ever-ready for the next thing to take hold.

It’s painful, but it’s meaningful. Though I can’t say I always made the best decisions, I can safely say that there was some lesson to be found at the bottom of every broken heart or failed friendship or sudden stress-induced bout of sobbing whose drama only the young are capable of surviving. I owe many thanks to everyone involved in the process.

Given the overarching themes in my life, I expected nothing less, and would have wanted nothing more.

Hannah Sparks was the Opinion/Editorial Editor. She can be reached at [email protected]