During my first year of college, I wasn’t 17 or 18 — nope, I was 20 years old.
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When I was moving into my freshman dorm, I had already collected one major heartbreak, one huge career change, two apartments, three roommates, three disappointing haircuts, and half-custody of a cat named Ollie.
In those two years between high school and college, I had lost my virginity, lost my best friend, and lost my way. I had also found my first love, my voice, and my way again.
It was a busy 24 months, but I wouldn’t give them back for anything. While I was messy and confused, I learned more about myself in those two years than I had all throughout high school. I had graduated from high school a shy, timid girl, and shown up to college a resilient, passionate force.
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At 18, right after my high school graduation, I decided to defer my enrollment to several universities and signed a contract to dance with Louisville Ballet instead. While all my friends were shopping for shower caddies and textbooks, I was moving into my very first apartment with my first roommate, Lily. She was about seven years older than me and was married (her husband was away working in D.C.).
From Lily, I learned something very important about myself: I was a horrible roommate. I’d leave my Diet Cokes to explode in the freezer, constantly need to be reminded that it was my turn to take out the trash, and literally tip-toe around any type of conflict (after a friend and I accidentally spilled water on Lily’s rug, we tip-toed on it, hoping our socks would soak it up, rather than confess).
While my friends were stressing about finals, I was stressing about casting, my competition, and the very adult world I had been thrown into. My daily stresses included avoiding the company member who liked to quiz me on my sexual knowledge, being thrown into a cast at a moment’s notice, and desperately hoping the director wouldn’t notice the 10 pounds I’d put on (spoiler: he did). I was utterly miserable.
To avoid the pain of my work days, I’d drive my best friend, Claire, and myself to Blockbuster and we’d browse for hours picking out indie flick after indie flick. We’d come home, curl up, and watch them, one after another. Those hours of storytelling were my only solace.
From this, I learned the power of female friendship and a movie night. For years, I thought it was escapism from my current reality, but it was much, much more. Once I quit dancing, I kept returning to the video store, strolling through its aisles again and again. I soon realized that this pastime was a sign of my authentic self coming through. “You can be a writer,” it said. “Apply to film school for college.” And so I did.
A year later, I would embark on a journey in another fiercely competitive field, but I promised myself this before my first day of school: I won’t let anyone or anything take away my voice again. And if this major does, I’m out. I had learned a thing or two from my days of feeling like a grossly underpaid prop.
And then…there were the boys. While my friends were navigating the choppy waters of campus dating, I was falling way too hard for a ballet boy with a bad heart. “I love you 99 percent,” he’d say, and somehow I thought that was enough.
But when I showed up on the front door of Chapman University, I knew my heart. And it was worth a whole lot more than just 99 percent of someone else’s.
The late, great Carrie Fisher gave the best advice regarding youth and all the confusion that comes with it: “Pay attention,” she said.
This isn’t gonna happen again. Rather than try to understand it as it’s going along, have it go along for a while and then understand it.
So that’s what I did. And by the time I was unpacking my dorm room, awaiting my first-ever college roommate, I understood life a little bit more than I had at 18.
The next few years would be the most joyous years of my life, and I know a big part of that was because I waited to go to college. But even though it was great for me, if the idea of taking a gap year makes you miserable, don’t do it. Follow what gives you comfort while lighting up your soul.
Personally, I didn’t take time off from school because I thought it was smart or prudent — it’s simply the way things unfolded. And for that, I’m forever grateful.
(Oh, and if you’re wondering about Ollie the cat. It turns out I’m allergic. Another lesson learned.)