Starting at a new place — whether that be a school, college, university or something else — is hard. There’s no way to get around that: it’s hard, you’re undoubtedly going to fuck up at least once, and if you don’t then you’re inarguably the exception, not the rule. I’ve done it three times in my life: once, aged 8, when I changed primary schools; again, when I was 11, moving to secondary school, without any of my primary school friends for company; finally, almost 8 weeks ago, when I started college, not only with a completely unfamiliar group of people, but also in a completely unfamiliar environment, as my college is over 4h from my home town, and I consequently live on campus, not at home, this being a key aspect of college life.
Fair enough — it’s hard to majorly screw things up when you’re eight-years-old, and your biggest concern in life is who will be sitting out of golden time this Friday, for bad behaviour (God forbid it be you). Oh, the innocence of primary school playtimes is nothing but a nostalgic memory now, although one which I cherish dearly.
At 11, it’s easier to mess things up, and I’m sure that, if you’ve been through the transition from primary to secondary education, or your country’s equivalent, you can confirm that through experience. I certainly can: I started Year 7 as an overly expressive, nerdy 11-year-old, and whilst this is all well and good in itself, there is certainly some skill involved in surviving British secondary school unscathed, and I promise you this: it can’t be learnt through books. Still, it all turned out alright, and I have friends and memories from those five years which will last a lifetime, along with the grades to push me on to where I am now.
And then there’s college. 16-years-old, moving out of home for the first time, studying and socialising and experimenting — it’s almost necessary to fuck up. I have done already, and I’m sure I will again; I don’t mind. It’s all part of the learning process, after all, and whilst it hurts at the time, no good comes of someone who has no idea what happens when things don’t quite go to plan.
Believe me — a year ago, perhaps less, the idea of getting anything wrong, especially socially, terrified me, and I vowed never to allow it to happen. More recently, someone said something to me which, in the moment, scared me hugely, but, upon reflection, actually fills me with something which I shall tentatively label as pride: “You don’t care as much these days”.
Don’t take this the wrong way: I care. I care a lot, about people, and achievements, and the big, important stuff. What my friend meant, however, is that I’ve stopped caring about EVERYTHING. Everything that didn’t, doesn’t and will never matter; everything that is so insignificant, it will never matter; everything that doesn’t need caring about, I’ve stopped caring for. And that’s healthy, I think, and I’m proud of it. I’m proud that I can prioritise, understand, acknowledge and act upon the things that matter, and the things that, quite simply, do not. I think my care-too-much attitude explains why I always stuck to the rules as diligently as if they were the law: I cared about a small telling-off. And yes, whilst rules are there to be followed, and are usually in place for one reason or another, there’s no harm in a bit of harmless rebellion: signing into halls 5 minutes after curfew, for example, or going to the Co-Op in my slippers and onesie.
By being able to let go of some of my care-induced fears, I’ve managed to start a change within myself which I honestly thought would never happen. I’m recognising myself as being more confident, both outwardly and inwardly. I see it in classes, where I no longer sit silently, but actively engage in conversation and discussion, where I want to share my ideas, and agree with, or challenge, the ideas of those around me.
I see it in extracurricular College-life, where I am volunteering for things, putting myself out there to engage and stand up for myself, and what I believe and am interested in. I put my name forward to be elected Chair of the student Representative Group at College — something I would never have dreamed of doing even just 6 months ago — and, somehow, got elected. I’m going out in the evenings, to see friends, have meals, or go to our Student Bar, rather than using the excuse of homework to shut myself away and hide in fear.
I see it in myself, and how I present myself. I’ve had my ear pierced, something that was, in the eyes of ‘old me’, far too out-there to be for me. Tomorrow, I’m having my hair dyed blue, and I’m not fearing a response at College, or the words of other students; it’s my choice, and I’m going to do it.
Sure, in part, I hardly recognise this new me. He’s a lot more confident, a lot more self-assured, and yet still learning and growing. At times, he’s definitely more impulsive — I guess my online shopping tendencies are spreading to other parts of life! But, all the same, he doesn’t feel forced, or fake. He feels like me: it’s natural, not artificial, and I love it. I love this freedom that comes alongside confidence, and I’m determined to grow with it, to let it carry me forward, to achieve whatever it is I’m going, or destined, to achieve in life.
For now though, I’m dying my hair blue.