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“Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet. “
- Victor Hugo
Some people would argue that success is best measured by the number in their bank account statement while some would counter that it’s more about the number of credentials attached to the end of your name. Maybe it’s my naivety that rejects these measures, but I believe that the only true confirmation of one’s success is in having achieved the dreams and aspirations that are unique to your own soul. As a recent college graduate, perhaps my lack of experience distorts my opinion, but I think that our culture needs more optimism like mine. In a world where conflict and economic strife are the headlines of the daily news, the only thing that we can hold onto is our hope that things will get better. One of my strongest personal beliefs is that we each have, within us, the power to shape our world and to determine the direction that our lives will take. Call it cliché, but this idea has always been a driving force in my life
As a psychology major at Emory University, I was a research assistant and I studied the development of memory in children. One major bullet point that I retained from that experience was the pivotal role that socialization plays in molding a child’s developing mind. In many ways, the brain of a child is like a molten lava flow; it is vibrant and energetic yet ultimately shaped by the environment through which it flows. For me, as a child raised in the tiny town of Clinton, Tennessee, it would have been easy to accept the idea that my future was restricted to my hometown like so many of my classmates were led to believe. Luckily, though, I was fortunate enough to have a vibrant imagination, a family that encouraged my innate passions, and a few great teachers that taught me that my strongest attributes were my heart and my mind.
Much of my own childhood was spent living vicariously through the characters of books that I read, but in the real world, many would say that I was sort of an outsider among my classmates. Understandably, being excluded had a profound effect on me, but not so much in a negative way. Maybe it was my natural disposition, but I believe that it helped to breed in me a desire to work harder. I learned to read people and understand situations much more quickly than my peers because I was constantly attempting to fit into their socially constructed roles. By the end of high school I had constructed a life of which I could finally be proud, and while I was unaware of it at the time, I now understand that much of that success was due to the self-confidence that came with believing that anything was possible. I have never been afraid to try the improbable, and I suppose my comfort on the road less traveled is one of the aforementioned perks of being a wallflower. So I took that road to Atlanta, GA and attended Emory University.
Needless to say, sometimes our dreams take us to places that seem more like nightmares upon first glance; I was a small-pond-fish among big-ocean-sharks, and I slowly began to understand the cold realities of our society. Money, which until this point was a foreign language to me, was the ultimate distinction between my classmates and myself: namely I had little and they had lots. While it was difficult without the constant comforts of home, I managed to use my inner strengths to my advantage and make a few good friends while doing well in my classes. Predictably, though, I lost my self-confidence at some point in the chaos, and its disappearance became a near disaster for me. I took a leave of absence from school to find myself again, but it wasn’t easy. My father fell extremely ill during this period of time and the fear of losing him made me question even my deepest held values. Yet the one faint glow in that darkness was that faint optimism left from my youth; the belief that I possessed everything I needed within myself. So I worked harder than ever and I managed to rekindle my passions. With renewed vigor, I finished my degree and proved to myself that the once clear image of my future was, in fact, attainable all along.
So what would be my advice for dealing with life’s unpredictability? Well, I always keep some of that “molten lava” from my childhood burning so that when my environment inevitably changes, I am able to mold myself to it without breaking. In all seriousness, sometimes we forget that children possess the hope that many of us so desperately need. We spend a lot of time teaching them the things we want them to know, but I know, for me at least, there is a lot I could learn from my younger self. The biggest challenges in my life have always been and will always be in keeping my dreams alive long enough to attain them and in allowing my life to change without believing that “who I am” has to change with it.