Growing up and the process of reinventing yourself in college

By LILY KAIRIS | November 30, 2017

Coming back to Hopkins after Thanksgiving break, I find myself reflecting on life with fresh eyes. For me, it’s always like this: Vacation incites introspection.

The transition from radical college independence to the security of my parents’ house is an odd reminder of how far I’ve come since high school. For instance: How crazy is it that I call that place “my parents’ house?” Suddenly, Baltimore feels just as much (if not more) like home as Wilmington, Delaware, despite only having spent 3.5 years here.

But the differences, of course, are more than just my place of residence. When I was in high school, I had exclusively female friends. I rode horses. I played the trumpet in marching band and secretly felt extremely out of touch with my marching band friend group, whose conversations mainly revolved around Kingdom Hearts and Minecraft.

I cancelled plans with friends to stay in and watch movies with my parents. I ran an anonymous Twitter account that addressed pick-up lines to various members of the high school “popular crowd.” Long story short — I was a dork. Now, I don’t claim to have undergone some head-to-toe Princess Diaries-esque makeover during my years of college. I did not exchange my glasses for contacts and miraculously become the Queen of Genovia. For all intents and purposes, I am still the dork I was before. Now, however, I am confidently dorky.

I publish my sassy quips in The News-Letter and self-promote my blog. In my ways, I believe the key to my happiness was self-acceptance.

In order to find friends who loved me and opportunities that fulfilled me, I had to stop doubting myself. I needed to let go and trust that who I am is good enough.

The first step was Hopkins. In my senior year of high school, college life was the light at the end of my proverbial tunnel. My dreams (printed under my senior photo: “I will become... a writer/activist/talk show host/half-broke life enthusiast”) were much too large for small-town mediocrity. So I obsessed over university acceptances with constant zeal.

I watched YouTube videos (“10 Things I wish I knew Before College,” “What Nobody Told me about Freshman Year,” “Why I Chose Yale”) and scrolled through personal blogs from Ivy League students, dreaming of myself as a plaid-wearing, moleskin-toting, Northeastern collegiate.

I wanted ivy walls and passionate discussions about social justice. I wanted classes that challenged me and classmates who inspired me.

Although it didn’t seem obvious at first, Hopkins was the solution to my striving. After a week of rejection letters, I ripped open that fat, golden-sealed acceptance packet with the eagerness of Charlie opening his golden ticket to the chocolate factory.

I’ll save you the details of my joy — scholarships, the excellence of the creative writing program and the kindness of the professors and students I met on my visits — but soon, I was sold. I took one look at the stained glass of the Hutzler Reading Room and whispered to my dad: “This is it.” But that’s not the point of this article.

All dramatics aside, I don’t think Hopkins was the one place on Earth that could have endowed me with the confidence I needed to break out of my social awkwardness.

I did not need a Writing Seminars and film degree to become secure in myself. The school is not magic, and there is nothing in the Baltimore air that suddenly cured all my woes. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t need college to change me — I created that change within myself.

I was one of few future freshman who actually read (and enjoyed) our recommended novel, Happier.

I vividly remember lying on my bed on a balmy afternoon in early August, rereading a quote from one of the final chapters: “Visualize the kind of person you want to be — how do you treat yourself? How do you treat others? How do you act? How do you let others treat you? Everyday, strive to become that person. Step by step, you will. Your life is in your control.” I read this quote, and despite the self-help patronization, I legitimately felt empowered.

For once, I began to realize: My past does not define me. Because it was a new state and a new school in which I knew zero members of the incoming class, Hopkins seemed like the perfect opportunity for my reinvention. I wrote on the inside cover of my 2014 planner: I am under no obligation to be the same person I was yesterday, or even the same person I was five minutes ago. And with that, I freed myself from the self-destructive habits of my past.

Of course, the actual process of self-growth is a lot more painstaking than writing a quote in your journal.

Don’t get me wrong, my freshman year was challenging. However, I ultimately gained an overwhelming amount of bravery.

Coming back from Thanksgiving break, I recognized yet again: My personality is remarkably different than it was four years ago.

This transformation reminds me of an episode of the Invisibilia podcast I listened to last spring. It was entitled, “The Personality Myth,” and in it, the hosts debunk the fallacy that personality is an ingrained, consistent facet of who we are as people.

On the contrary, personality is fluid. Peoples’ bodies are changing all the time: your blood constantly circulates; every atom within you regenerates; even your memories change every time you recall them.

On a purely physical level, we are not the people we were yesterday or even five minutes ago. To further prove this, the Invisibilia hosts interviewed a collection of people about their past and present selves.

One interview that stood out to me (and which I will probably never forget): a formerly convicted rapist named Tim.

Long story short, this man — who was once erratic and angry — made a conscious decision to fight the demons within him.

One day in prison, after having a sudden fist fight with an inmate who he had befriended, Tim looked in the mirror and saw something he despised. “There was something dark buried within me... something that hated the world, that yearned for chaos, that couldn’t love or trust. Something that was constantly vying for expression. But I didn’t want to let that darkness control me anymore.”

And so, this man asked to be relocated to a private cell, and for the next three years of his imprisonment, he existed in solitude. He meditated, read books by Gandhi and Socrates, and he wrote poetry about his feelings. Years later, he requested that his prison in New York host a TEDx conference for all the inmates to perform their talents and creative works.

“I don’t communicate with aggression anymore,” Tim said in his interview with Invisibilia. I communicate with art. Ten years after his conviction, at the time of his interview, Tim had lost all traces of his former self. “I’d grown to believe: I’m serving time for a crime I didn’t commit,” Tim said. “That person isn’t the real me.”

Yes, this might seem difficult to believe. I understand that. Can we really say that a former rapist isn’t guilty of his past crime? Can we believe that our past personality just disappears? Can people really change for good?

Even after all this self-reflection, I still feel eons away from certainty. I do not know, for sure, all the intricacies of personality and self-growth.

I might be speaking nonsense here. My so-called self-transformation might just be a placebo effect. However, if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s this: You are never bound to your past.

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