Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gifts and Challenges

     Ten years ago this week I opened an email that informed me I had been accepted to the college that I would end up attending. I have to admit, my college process was a little different than the environment that exists now, particularly in cities like New York, but regardless I can certainly still remember the anticipation of finding out where I'd been admitted and realizing the shift from hoping someone would choose me to instead being the one doing the choosing.
     That email was probably one of the most significant 'choice points' I have had in my life so far. My eventual decision to leave home and go to college in a place that was totally new has had a trickle down effect that has rippled through many other decisions that followed. That isn't to say I wouldn't have ended up being about the same person that I am now, but I doubt I would have pushed my boundaries (both academically and personally) in the same way had I selected one of my other options.
     I know the temptation is there to compare your own admission outcomes to your peers. It is easy to be jealous of another person's acceptance. To ask yourself, why them not me? I know getting a small envelope can feel like the worst moment imaginable. I also know getting a big one can feel like you have just won the lotttery. Those are real emotions. Don't ignore them.
    What I think you may eventually realize though is that most of life can be distilled down into a series of gifts and challenges. Different people have different proportions of these two categories, but they are almost always there. I would also go so far as to say that people, almost always, mistake one category for the other.
    My email ten years ago felt like a gift. And I absolutely feel lucky to have experienced all the things that I did in the four years that followed that acceptance. But with that gift also came a lot of challenges. The academics were hard. I had to spend many a weekend reading chapter after chapter in the University library and doing research for papers and exams. I entered college totally on my own. My roommate and I had exchanged pictures and get to know you notes in the mail. This was before Facebook. There was not a single person on campus that I knew ahead of time. I had to meet everyone from scratch. My junior year I faced maybe the hardest challenge of all, dealing with the death of one of my close friends. It was the first time I had ever lost someone that was my own age. But while these things were challenges on the surface, I have come to realize that they were also gifts in disguise. The academics helped me continue to establish my work ethic. Meeting all new people helped me discover more about myself and resulted in many wonderful friendships that still continue to this day. The death of a friend was devastating, but I discovered the best way for me to deal with my grief was through service. I went on a Spring Break that year to Albemarle, North Carolina doing Habitat for Humanity a trip that, even though I didn't realize it at the time, was exactly what I needed to cope.
      For the many of you that are getting such exciting news from schools you have been accepted to, these moments are absolutely gifts. Getting in to your top choice school is a wonderful accomplishment. But don't mistake the gift as something that will come without challenge. And for those who may be disappointed with either their decisions or financial aid packages, these challenges  may actually be gifts too. Life takes us on some pretty interesting paths. Having the level of understanding to recognize the positive in the negative (and the challenges in the gifts) is the best guidance I can give.
    Over the next four weeks most seniors will decide where they will spend the next four years. Some may feel like they are faced with more gifts than others, but life has an interesting way of taking us the places we are supposed to go.