Better late than dead

“Excuse me,” the polite, bright-eyed woman asked. “Where is the president speaking? I thought it was in the chapel.”

I know why they call them “freshmen.” She truly was fresh-faced and eager looking.

“Oh, you need the other chapel,” I explained. There are two on the college campus where I’m employed, including one in the building where I work. I picked up the orientation schedule to confirm the location. 4:30 pm. President’s Welcome. The other chapel.  My coworker took over and pointed the new student in the direction of the correct venue.  I glanced at the clock: 4:42 pm.

As I watched the young woman confidently stride toward the square, I thought how lucky she is. Not because she has youthful enthusiasm on her side or because she has been admitted into this highly selective institution. I thought how lucky she was to be late.

In her place, at her age, I would have been near tears. You’re missing a mandatory meeting. You’re going to walk in late and everyone will see you. You’ll look ridiculous. People will think you are irresponsible. I would have been hyperventilating by the time I found the right place, too overwhelmed with embarrassment and self-loathing to actually pay attention to the address.

Whereas the academics of high school had been a breeze for me, college challenged my mind in just the way I needed. It also provided me opportunities to fail. Lots of them. Having rarely experienced less than perfect grades, I was emotionally unequipped to deal with not acing every test.

Getting your stomach pumped after a failed suicide attempt is a great first step toward accepting that you aren’t going to be perfect at everything.

Part of me wanted to run after that student, tell her to skip the welcome.  Such an attitude was inconceivable to me at her age. But I’ll get in trouble. Someone will know. I have to do the right thing. I was uptight and judgmental, with most of the rigidity and criticism directed at myself. Maybe I’ve grown apathetic since then, but I prefer to think I’m liberated. I wanted to catch up with her to tell her that the world won’t end if she gets there late, misses a class, or fails a quiz.

On second thought, my work day was almost over. I’ve learned to tolerate a little tardiness, but I’d never want to leave work late. I’d rather clock out on time to go on living my less than perfect life.

blog for mental health
This post was rescued (thank you, Rarasaur!) from a now-defunct site where it was originally published last fall. I’m re-posting it here so that it doesn’t get lost and as part of my pledge to Blog for Mental Health 2014.

13 thoughts on “Better late than dead

  1. Great post. I wish someone would have shaken me by the shoulders my freshman year of college with this exact warning, although I am not sure I had the maturity to hear it at the time.

    I remember receiving the first B- of my life in college, on my first history paper of my college career. The tears that followed were so ridiculously overblown in proportion to the “problem” I was having that my roommate and floor mates reported me to the RA for having a suspected drug problem. I didn’t learn to embrace imperfections in myself until after I was a married mom, and even now I have trouble remembering the goal is to live fully not to live perfectly.


  2. It’s a lesson I think most of us learn much later than we wish. One of my best friends in high school committed suicide during her first year of college. She was an honor student throughout high school and went to college to become a veterinarian. She became very depressed when her grades were not what she wanted them to be. Her mom took her to the doctor because of her depression and he prescribed medication that ended up compounding the problem. She took the whole bottle of pills. I don’t think her intention was to truly kill herself…that really wasn’t her, but depression does terrible things.
    That is an extreme….but even those who are mentally healthy for the most part learn to take life in stride much later in life sometimes. I often wish I knew “then” what I know now. I would have done many things much differently.


    1. I was chatting with some co-workers about how our current higher ed system (graduate from high school, go directly to college) is flawed. Sure there will be teens who can easily make the transition, but there are so many who get overwhelmed. Even the ones with good mental health can flounder.
      I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.


  3. Great post! I was very like you my first year in college. If I had a time machine I’d go back, shake my younger self by the shoulders, and say, “No one knows what they’re doing so stop being so afraid that people will find out you don’t either!”


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