growing up

reflections on three years passed

As my final year gets into gear, I have been pulled into a sense of nostalgia for the last three years. It’s true I have a quarter of my time here at Brown left to go, but it feels like this year is going faster than the previous three, and I don’t quite know how to deal with that.

People say that time goes fast when you’re having fun; they say that as you get older, time speeds up, that when you’re in danger, it slows down. There are theories about why this is, about how your brain processes information. Scientists have found that when you’re doing something new, you focus on all the details, processing each one individually. But once you do something again and again, your brain stops taking it in. It all becomes the same, and that’s when time starts to fly past you. Maybe that’s why my freshman year felt so long, and why each year has felt shorter and shorter since. All I know is I have one quick year before I graduate and time slows down again.

I look back on who I was freshman year, and I can’t recognize myself. Change happens in invisible increments; it feels like barely anything is happening, and then it’s been three years. Suddenly, you’re a different person. That’s an overstatement; I’m still the same person at my core. I still overthink every word and action; I still care too much about fictional characters; I still find it hard not to procrastinate. My being hasn’t shifted—I still feel the same excitement for life that I always did. What’s changed is my perception of myself.

Coming to Brown for the first time was overwhelming. I’d been a big fish in a little pond, so overconfident in my intelligence that I couldn’t imagine a world where I could feel small. But then I arrived at Brown and quickly realized how insignificant I was. In seconds, I lost all confidence in myself, in my ability to convey thoughts and ideas, in my ability to have them in the first place. I was awed by the people around me, all so capable and intelligent.

I think about who I was three years ago, insecure, terrified I wouldn’t make any friends, worried about all the things I wanted to do and thought I couldn’t. I think about how much has changed. I think about how I went to the writing center for the first five page paper I ever wrote, concerned and confused. (Now, I sometimes start five page papers the day they’re due.) I think about how I had never had anything at Jo’s but a spicy with until the end of freshman year. (Jo’s salads are a gift from God.) I came out freshman year, not worried really, but still unsure how to express myself. (I found my people.) I think about how in my first three weeks of college, I was convinced that the key to a Real American College ExperienceTM was to try to go to parties on the weekends. (I realized that I really don’t like dancing, or parties, or people who are wasted.)

I’m supposed to feel like an adult now, ready to get a job, to graduate, to be responsible. But I don’t feel even close to ready. I’m still young and there’s so much I don’t know how to do. But someone once told me that no one really ever feels like an adult, that what makes an adult is life experience. Everyone gets to a point where instead of feeling blind panic in a situation—whether it’s interviewing for a job, shopping for groceries, or doing your own taxes—you think, “I know how to do this; I’ve done this before.” That’s what growing up is—just adding more items to the list of situations you know how to handle.

My list is a lot longer now than it was three years ago. It’s not a comprehensive list, but what matters is that it’s growing. I can cook decently enough to feed myself; I can chair a meeting with confidence; I can write a paper, face a deadline, do a presentation, without panicking; I can build things with power tools and wood; I can stage manage a show; I can spend three months being lonely and miserable and put myself back together.

The additions to my list may not be the same as anyone else’s, they may not be as impressive or as useful, but each new item has made me more confident. When I see freshmen now, I remember how worried I was, and I want them to know that feeling goes away. Their lists will expand.

As my final year gets into gear, I feel like maybe I’m ready for this, ready for this year, and ready for the world.