I didn’t “find myself” on a mosque-hopping adventure in Budapest. I didn’t find myself in a quiet café in the French countryside. I didn’t find myself by getting helplessly lost in Sydney and asserting my independence over a foreign city. In short, I didn’t find myself by going abroad; I didn’t even go abroad. I know that there’s so much to learn in another country, when you’ve been stripped of the security blankets of your friends, your culture and reliable cell phone service. I know this because I saw how going abroad changed my friends when they returned this year, bounding back to Williamstown with a newfound confidence and surety.
But I found myself without making it much past Frosh Quad. I found myself by sitting in a cluttered common room ’til 3 a.m. reading those atrocious erotica stories in the back of Cosmopolitan; in orchestrating the theft of a blowup moose head only to watch a prank war spiral out of control; in convincing unsuspecting first-years to watch the trials and tribulations of Desiree on The Bachelorette instead of doing their homework; and in forcing my entry to sleep in a sweltering cabin in a creepy wood one fateful Saturday night. I can’t articulate precisely when I found myself, when I discovered that I was confident with who I was, when I stopped really, truly caring what other people thought of me. It could have happened during The Bachelorette, or whenever one of my first-years plopped down on my giant beanbag because they just needed someone or when my co-Junior Advisor (JA) and I realized we had to make something up – okay, everything – completely by the seats of our pants. But I know that it happened. I know that somewhere during junior year, I grew up. I grew up, and whether everyone loved every part of me became substantially less important because I loved (almost) every part of me. I questioned myself less, and I needed reassurance that I was cool or funny or pretty or smart remarkably less frequently. In short, I started waking up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy.
The fact that I feel like a badass pretty much 24/7 isn’t really my point, though. My point is that it’s really hard to make people believe that you grew up by having snacks every Sunday at 10 p.m. It’s really hard to make people believe that you grew up by eating dinner with the same 20 people every Monday. And it doesn’t matter. I don’t feel the need to justify my decision to stay in Williamstown for four years to anyone. I don’t make excuses for why I didn’t go abroad – I wanted to stay on campus, and that’s all that matters. For current first-years and especially current sophomores, this won’t be so clear. I know it wasn’t for me. You’ll feel like you need to explain why you want to go abroad, why you want to be a JA, why you want to do neither. It’s what you’ll talk about at dinner, at Tunnel City, with your professors and coaches. You’ll feel trapped, and you’ll come up with an answer, and everyone will try to tell you what to do. Everyone will make their pitch for you to go abroad because it expanded their horizons. Or they’ll make their pitch for you to be a JA because it changed their life. Or they’ll make their pitch that you should just keep doing you for your junior year because it’s liberating. You’ll probably come up with a witty retort for these advisors, but the things they say will stick with you, influencing you in the tiny corners of your brain where things always seem to get stuck.
I’m beseeching you to clean out the corners of your brain: Forget about all of the advice. Forget about all of their opinions, about what they think will be best for you. No one knows you like you know yourself, and no one actually tries to. Try to see past what worked for everyone else. Even if you get accepted to Oxford, be honest with yourself. It’s okay if the Harry Potter dorms aren’t really what you need. When Karen Ryan sends you that congratulatory JA acceptance e-mail, be okay if shacking up with 20 noobs isn’t actually for you. Be okay turning down both. We try so hard to conform at Williams, to earn the adoration of our peers by doing what is expected of us. Often, that leads to success – to internships at Bain and J.P. Morgan and GPAs of which I can only dream. But you only get four years at Williams. You only get four years in which you can genuinely believe that anything is possible for you. So listen to your heart (when it’s calling for you). Trust your gut, and never worry about explaining it to anyone else.
Nicole Smith ’14 is a political science major from Midland, Mich. She lives in Prospect.