**For more information on the prompt that inspired this post please visit here**
I hug my knees to my chest, hiding my face with a Sarah Dessen book. A group of people pass by, a rolling wave of laughter and whispers. Snippets of gossip fall to the floor where I sit with my back against my locker. I peek over page 212 to look at them. I lock eyes with someone from my Spanish class. Stomach coils, eyes drop.
When they turn the corner, I gather my things and head to the girls’ bathroom. I find an empty stall, lock myself in, and sit. I read the My Chemical Romance lyrics carved into the door with blue ballpoint pen. I eye the disturbingly-detailed Sharpie sketch of genitalia plastered above the toilet paper dispenser. Despite the obscenities etched into the doors and despite the smell hanging in the air, I find a strange sort of comfort inside of this stall. I feel safer.
Feeling lonely in solitude, I can handle. Feeling lonely in a crowd is just too much.
This was my freshman year.
I’d envisioned high school differently. I thought it’d be like a show on the WB—lunches at the nearby fast food joint, football games on Friday nights, giggly conversations by the lockers. I thought that it would just happen. I thought that I would magically fall into a band of lovable misfits who would show me the true meaning of friendship—and somewhere in the midst of discovering myself and surviving algebra, I’d meet some sort of Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike in my English class who would woo me into a John Hughes romance.
Needless to say, that did not happen.
It has taken me this long—five years—to realize that the reason why it did not happen was because I did not make it happen.
It has taken me this long to realize that I have the power to make it happen.
When I came to UCLA, I had similar grand visions—football games, parties, coffeehouse dates. Once I arrived on campus for move-in day, however, I felt the fear creeping in. I feared that I would repeat ninth grade all over again. The lonely lunches. The solitary walks. The uneventful weekends. I feared that I would allow this large institution, with its brick palaces and 40,000-some students, to engulf me, consume me, overwhelm me. I feared that I would disappear into anonymity, insignificance.
And I almost did.
That is, until I finally took the initiative to seek out my own, smaller communities within UCLA. I implemented Project: Make It Happen.
I found some communities more naturally: my roommate and I clicked from the get-go. On our first daytogether, we stayed up into the late hours of the night sharing our stories, immersing ourselves in one another’s heartbreak and sunshine. We were honest with one another; we listened to one another. What began as a random rooming assignment became an incredibly strong and unwavering friendship.
With her as my support system, my rock, I gained enough confidence to join a creative writing club, where I built relationships upon a common passion for storytelling. Every Tuesday evening, I would spend an hour with a group of people who actually knew my name. And, eventually, they knew my writing voice. Within that space, I was no longer anonymous—no longer reduced to a student ID number on my professors’ rosters. I had a voice.
And finally, this year, I joined the team at WSP, a space where I, like my students, continually work on shaping and empowering my own voice with the aim of communicating effectively and creatively with others. As a counselor at WSP, I connected with not only my students and my co-workers, but myself.
Cheesy, I know. But it is true: the most valuable relationship in my life is the one that I have with myself. This is something that I’ve only recently come to understand and appreciate.
Earlier this school year, I lost a crucial relationship in my life. When the relationship came to a close, I struggled to accept my own individuality. I was convinced that in order to feel complete, in order to achieve happiness, I needed this person. Or a person. I needed someone to tell me, to show me, that I was worth—something.
For a while, I tried to find myself in other people. I collected “I love you’s,” smiles, and compliments and slipped them into my empty spaces, hoping that someday, they’d blossom into confidence. Instead, I became even more insecure and dependent, measuring my self-worth by these tokens that people gave me (and deriving worthlessness from the ones that they did not).
It was one simple, common sense, but undoubtedly significant sentence uttered by Denise, our project director here at WSP, that transformed my outlook on relationships and community.
“You have to be your own friend.”
Finally, with that, I came to understand that all relationships, all communities, begin with the self.
As I’ve found more and more people that I connect with, I’ve learned increasingly more about myself. About what I want. Who I want. Who I want to be. Who I am. Through my participation in each of these communities—from one-on- one relationships to campus organizations—I’ve grown to understand that the people in my life are not there to complete me. They are not there to tell me who I am or who I am supposed to be. Rather, they are there to facilitate my own self-discovery. Their love should complement the love that I have for myself. Their love should inspire self-love—not stand in for it.
That is to say, what I’ve recently come to understand is that I must be comfortable with myself in order to be comfortable with others. I must connect with myself in order to connect with others. Quite frankly, I have not quite gotten to that point—not completely. Not yet. This requires a sort of confidence that I am still working towards. But I know that, eventually, I will get there.
Out of all of the communities that I have found at UCLA, I believe that the one I have with myself has been the most challenging to acclimate to. To find comfort in. To accept. More importantly, however, it has been the most rewarding.
Project: Make it Happen has been a success so far.
Now, I am ready for Project: Confidence.
Post submitted by JoAnna