I've failed out of college.
The first time, my freshman year at Western Michigan University. When I started the year, I was 'the good girl.' I had never had a drink in my life before that. I was actively involved at my church back home, and for the first two months, did an admirable job of trying to stick to my previously-untested scruples. But it was college, and I was 18, and I had freedom for the first time in my life, so eventually, I caved in. And went down in a blaze of glory. There was no shot I wouldn't try, no party I wouldn't go to, no drunken frat boy I wouldn't make out with. For a girl who had spent high school as a bit of an outsider, kissing two guys all through my teen years, sudden male attention was too much for me to handle. I ate it up, and spent months getting wasted and throwing myself at whatever boy stood too close. It wasn't til I got to know the guy who would become the most heart-breaking, real, wonderful, tear-inducing, sweet, encouraging, gut-wrenching man in my life (but that is a much different story), that I realized I had just spent six months trying to find what I had with him. I settled down, but by then it was too late. I had spent too long in the cycle of partying, sleeping in, hangovers, skipping class, and basically ignoring what I was supposed to be doing in Kalamazoo to make up for the fact that I messed up. I left the school in April knowing I wouldn't be going back.
When I got back to my hometown, I was embarrassed and ashamed, but mostly, disappointed in myself. Here I was, a girl who graduated with honors, who generally was on the honor roll, never got into trouble, had known she was off to do great things, coming home a failure. I went back to my high school job, and that first summer, saw old friends from high school often, always avoiding the question of how my first year of college went.
I was determined to change my story.
I enrolled in a community college near home. I started in September, excited, and confident that I would thrive here. My semester began strong, and I was sure that I was just going to do this for a year before I moved on to another university, perhaps something other than a general state school. I dreamt of art and design school, of going into advertising, or becoming a photographer, or an interior designer. I knew I was destined for greatness.
But old habits die hard, and soon I was falling back into my old ways. The partying was no longer the issue - it was just laziness, not caring, not knowing what I wanted. After a few semesters, I once again found myself on the receiving end of an academic dismissal letter. This time I was furious. What the hell was wrong with me? I should have been having the time of my life, doing what I loved - meeting new people, and learning as much as I could about...as much as I could. Why were the idiots I knew in high school beating me now?
I took a little time off. I threw myself into working, bouncing from job to job as soon as a better opportunity opened up. I made more friends in the area, and spent every waking moment with them. I had lost who I was, but I was finding myself again, and in a different light. I was no longer the smart girl, the good girl, the sweet girl. The world had kicked me down, I had let it, and I was no longer going to just lie down and take it.
So I tried again...another community college, with an interior design program. When I realized how much I hated that, I switched to photography and finally found my niche. I was good. I had an eye for it, and I found my home in the darkroom. Any time I didn't have a camera around my neck or my hands covered in developer, I was framing shots in my head - eating dinner with my parents, driving to work, sitting at the coffee shop I frequented. I started to believe that this was my calling, and started to make plans - major in business and photography, start my own studio, make a living off shooting weddings and pictures of babies and dogs, and make my life whole by keeping my dad's old Minolta with me at all times, finding beauty in everyday scenes. I was ecstatic that I finally had a purpose, a talent, something that made me feel alive.
But then the pain started....at first it was just an annoyance....my ankles that kept cracking whenever I moved, the "growing pains" that were unexplainable - at 22 I wasn't getting any taller. My shoulders and hips ached, my wrists were on fire, and soon it spread into my fingers. I was popping upwards of twenty Motrin a day, and still barely able to get around. I couldn't sleep because of the pain. In the morning, I couldn't move my joints without agony. The only fix was to crawl to the shower, struggle to reach the faucet, and then huddle on the floor while hot water pounded over me. I started making doctor appointments, and after months of tests and medication, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I took the news as well as could be expected, but after research and more appointments with my specialist, realized that making a living as a photographer wouldn't be likely. The constant activity, the cold, the minute movements required to be successful - as much as I wanted the dream, I didn't want to ruin my body by doing it. I knew it would be a hobby, but nothing more.
And so once again, I threw myself into work. I decided I was done with school, and focused on learning as much as I could hands-on. I went as far as I could at one job, and started another. After the initial few months of panic, of feeling in over my head, I slowly became more confident. People started to depend on me. My opinion was valued. My company was great to work for. I made great friends, and really enjoyed what I was doing. Through it all, I waited for the restlessness - the itch that came after a year and a half or two years to move on. But it never came. I was happy with where I was, and sure that I had a long future ahead of me.
One morning, shortly after I turned 26, I woke up wondering when I'd become so complacent. Sure, I loved my job, but where was it headed? In my department, there's no real room for growth...just a steady source of income, and the same thing, day after day. There were challenges, sure, but nothing I couldn't conquer within a few hours. I was starting to get bored again.
Instead of jumping ship, as had become my way, I suddenly made the decision - I was going back to school. I'd get my business degree, move to research, and then basically take over the world. I decided that on a Tuesday morning, and by Wednesday night, my application to Eastern Michigan University was submitted, and transcript requests to my previous three schools were on their way. My ACT scores had been requested, and I was beginning to compose a letter to the transfer director, making my case - maybe my GPA wasn't pretty to look at, but damnit, I was motivated!
A few weeks later, I was accepted, and a couple months after that, I met with an advisor. I picked my classes for winter semester, filled out my financial aid forms, and prepared to lose most of my social life for a couple of years.
January 5th came, and classes began. I walked in each day ready to learn. I attacked my online classes with gusto, and became a standout student in both. My speech class was a piece of cake (God knows I love to talk) and even my statistics class was going well. I studied hard, worked my ass off, and for three and a half months, lugged around a heavy backpack so I could do homework on my lunch at work, or while watching a movie at a friend's. This time, I knew, I would succeed.
And at the end of my first semester back at school, I have exceeded my expectations. I finished the term with a 3.57 - 3 A's, and a C+ in that pesky stats class (still above my goal of a C). I made the Dean's List, I applied for a scholarship that I became eligible for, and more than that, received two recommendation letters that proved to myself how capable I had become - one from my Business Communications professor, and one from a VP at work that I work with often. I decided to take a break for spring semester, and only one class in the summer, but this fall, I'll be back full time again, with 4 classes.
For the first time in my life, I am eagerly anticipating the second semester at a school. And with all the mistakes I made the first couple of times, the disappointment of the third, and the personal failures, challenges, and triumphs along the way, I know I am ready to take on the world, and this time, instead of getting kicked down, I will kick ass.
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