Over the course of this semester, the two most important lessons I have learned are to stand tall in the face of adversity even when it feels like a losing battle, and that regardless of who is right and who is wrong in any given situation, there are some people who may never be able to empathize with and respect where you stand.
In The Perks of Being Wallflower written by Stephen Chbosky, there is a quote that says “I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.”
Though I have read this book many times since high school, these words have never been more significant to me than they are now. The raw truth about the time you spend in college is that on the one hand, you will inspire and be inspired, but the flipside is that every once in a while you’re going to annoy others and do them wrong, and others will do the same to you. These are simply side effects of trying to do your own thing, and figure out who you are and what matters the most to you.
What I mean is that you are going to find yourself in the most rewarding and exciting of situations, but every so often you will find yourself in the middle of dark, undesirable and painful circumstances. Sometimes you are left fulfilled and content, and sometimes you are left broken and empty. When experiencing the latter, that is when it is most important to remember what you value and what you stand for because that is when it is the hardest to do. The people that we lean on for support during tough times will not always have the answers, or a map that shows you the way out. You must learn to be your own light in the dark, and figure out how to push yourself to brighter days. That’s what Chbosky means when he says “we can still choose where we go from there”; Will you allow the hardships to make you bitter and resentful, or will you use that energy to grow stronger and rise above all the people, places and things that bring you down?
I think that the people we choose to surround ourselves with has much to do with who we are now, the direction that we are heading and how we choose to react when we have been wronged. If those people make you, or others, feel small, unimportant and devalued, stand up and speak out. It can be terrifying, especially if you are standing alone. But eventually, maybe not right away, you will feel stronger. The way you carry yourself when life gets really hard is what people notice the most. If you are angry and searching for payback, others will only seek to tear you down. It is a humble confidence in what you believe is right, and the way you continue to be kind to those who do not deserve it that have the potential to shake the foundation and silence the rude, degrading, belittling noise of those with nothing better to do than bring others down.
What does this have to do with the broader college experience? It’s simple: life itself, and the part of it that many refer to as the “glory years”, are far too short to spend in dark places with people who leave you feeling broken. No one should have to live in shadows of doubt, worry and bitter unhappiness, and no one should feel entitled to cast those shadows unto others.
Maya Angelou said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I cannot stress enough how true this is. Do your best to make others feel good, valid, powerful, significant and alive, regardless of the number of times you have felt that life has been unfair to you.
Collegian Columnist Haleigh McGill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HaleighMcGill.