“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.
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.