Back in high school, everyone was clamoring to get out. “I can’t wait to leave,” they said. “Senior spring can’t come soon enough,” they said. And when August rolled around and summer came to an end and college loomed large right there in front of us, I could sense a palpable excitement in the air. Going to UChicago gave me the joint blessing and curse of being able to watch all my friends leave first, and sure, they were a little scared too, but mostly they were thrilled to go off to wherever they were going. After all, it was the start of a new journey. I mean, that’s what all the pamphlets and all the passed-down stories and all the movies promised.
But I was mostly scared. Truth be told, for a while I didn’t even want to go to college. I don’t really know exactly what it was that scared me so much, but I felt strangely alone in my fear, like I was somehow different from everyone else. Everyone else seemed on the edge of their seat, ready to leave high school behind and move on to bigger places, better places. Everyone else seemed so ready to see what the future had in store for them. And I was just sitting in my room trying to figure out why I didn’t feel the same way.
I’m scared of a lot of things. I’m scared of the future. I’m scared of failure. I’m scared that I’m not good enough and that I’ll never become the person I want so badly to be. But I think everyone has those fears too and for some reason, as a high school senior, I just had a deeper fixation on them than most people. I didn’t think I had the maturity, the charisma, or the independence to be able to survive on my own in a school full of people who may or may not like me, in a place that was wholly foreign to me.
But in the end, I really didn’t know what else I would do if I didn’t go to college, and I reasoned that if college was scaring me so much, then maybe it was actually the place to go. Everyone always tells me to face my fears, and this seemed like my chance to actually do that. If this thing scared me so much because I didn’t feel like I was ready, maybe going there would help me grow into someone that was ready. Maybe that was how I could become the person I wanted to be.
As we hurtle into finals week, I’ve found myself reflecting, sometimes seriously, sometimes flippantly, on my decision to come to UChicago or go to college at all. And I’m sure I’m not alone. Two quarters into my first year here, I still have a lot of the same fears. Some of my fears have only become more real. I’ve seen myself turn in problem set after problem set late, and sometimes, not turn anything in at all. I’ve seen myself put off job applications and internship applications until it’s too late to even start. I’ve seen myself fall into spirals of self-doubt. In many ways, my fears were justified.
Honestly, sometimes I worry that I’m not growing at all and that if this place, this place that scared me so much, can’t even make me better, then maybe I’ll just be stuck forever.
But I’ve surprised myself in a lot of ways too. Some of them are small things: eating regular meals, having a semi-consistent gym routine, or finding time to clean my room and do my laundry. I’ve surprised myself in bigger ways, too: trying out for the rugby team, surviving so far in honors calculus (hopefully I don’t jinx myself for the final next week with this one), or even just applying to be a columnist for The Maroon. I’ve done things here that I never thought I would do or could do. And every day, I wake up hoping, knowing, believing that I’ll surprise myself again.
I’ve come to realize that growing is a slow and oft-invisible process. It might not happen overnight, but it’s always happening, and it never ends. There will inevitably be growing pains, often in our most stressful moments (finals, anyone?). No one will ever reach that point where they’re fully sure of themselves. We’re all in some middle stage, children in bigger and bolder bodies. And while I may never truly become all that I want to become, I hope that by the end of these four years, I can look back and say that I am, at least, a better person than when I first arrived—that fearful, hopeful boy.
Lucas Du is a first-year in the College.