As high school and college graduation pictures continue to appear on my newsfeed, I can’t help but reflect back to those exciting, yet terrifying times in my life. The exhilaration of being a senior, moving away from home, and establishing independence is remarkable. Parties, freedom, friends, and community celebrating for what seems like weeks. But, in due time, each student will begin packing and preparing for the next phase of life. An abrupt transition from confidence to uncertainty occurs, and anxiety subtly begins to set in.
Regardless of one’s connection and relationship to home and family, moving out can be very scary and overwhelming. For me, I was very much a homebody, and attached to my family. I never enjoyed sleepovers, overnight camp, or trips away. Therefore, my move to college was extremely challenging, and nerve racking. Luckily for me, I committed to a university that was only a one-hour drive from home. However, there were many days I felt I was living much further away based on my homesickness and unhappiness.
College in itself can be extremely anxiety-provoking. But, as a student, one is surrounded by classmates, teammates, and peers, all of which make it easier to establish friendships and relationships. The accessibility of people, ease of meeting others, and being able to relate to those around you based on age, major, hobbies and interests makes it less complicated during the college years. It is when one graduates from college, applies for jobs, which seem very difficult to come by these days, and moves to a brand new location because of a career opportunity and offer.
This is when I had one of the most challenging experiences. Following college, I dreamed of pursuing a career in college athletics, being a soccer coach. I applied and interviewed for any and every job I saw posted, and was determined to earn a position. With the fear of not finding a job, I also applied for teaching jobs in the school district I grew up in. The same day I was called to be flown down to Baltimore to interview at Towson University, I was invited to interview at the elementary school I had attended. After much deliberation, I took a huge risk, and accepted the interview opportunity in Baltimore. The job was offered to me three days later. I accepted, and was asked to move that same week.
I didn’t know a single person in Baltimore; I didn’t even have a slight connection. As much as I had struggled to live away from home in college, I still chose to pursue a new career in a new place. My parents drove with me the eight hours down, and we had one day to find me a place to live. In retrospect, I don’t know how I had the strength, courage, and positivity to say goodbye to them, and begin my journey in such a foreign city. But, I did.
Moving to a new place and starting over is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I no longer was in classes with seven hundred people, given the chance to be able to relate to at least one of them. I was no longer surrounded by other student-athletes going through the same strenuous workouts I did. And, the chance to walk in a cafeteria or nearby restaurant to see familiar faces from school, soccer, or my dorm was over. I was alone and lost in a city where I didn’t know who to turn to, where to go, and how to find my way. This, in itself, is scary, beyond words.
So, I started “dating”–which is what I called meeting new people, and seeing if there was any sort of connection. But, to be honest, connection or not, I just wanted company. My once pickiness in choosing friends became wide open and accepting as I was able to appreciate the time and effort anyone put forth. It was at that point, my once high standards of selecting friends went by the wayside, as I had a new appreciation for people, and those who went out of their way to welcome me, include me, and embrace me.
Diagnosed with separation anxiety as a collegiate student-athlete, when I was sick with depression and had an eating disorder, as well, I have struggled to attain independence apart from my parents. Though I have continuously battled these feelings, I can say now that I am truly blessed to have such a close and special relationship with my parents. There is a reason I am so attached, and I hope my kids feel that same closeness, but are able to cope with separation better than I have done. There is a fine line; and the fact that I still live in Baltimore is miraculous, and shocking to those who know me well.
I wish the high school and college graduates the best of luck in their next phase of life. Every stage is an opportunity to grow, mature, and make memories. Enjoy it.