A message to remember for college freshman, middle schoolers, first year teachers, my best friends, my brothers, my future students, my classmates, my professors, and for myself.
Allow me to set up a backdrop for this advice.
I recently have taken residence in the quiet, hilly and foreign neighborhood of Baulduina in Rome. I’m enrolled in Italian I because prior to coming here my only vocabulary word was Ciao. To think living in a new city that speaks an unfamiliar language — planning trips, budgeting money that somehow seems to be exponentially more limited each day (Sidebar: Sometimes it’s ok to dip into the school supply funds to support your gelato needs.), memorizing new public transportation routes, existing without constant Internet connection, and leaving the comforts of home life — without learning the language is to completely ignore the social context of the experience.
Making friends has always felt natural to me. This may be one of the few positive consequences of a loud personality. Not having friends has never felt natural to me. I’ve done this once before when I started college in a new city knowing no one. There are the positives and there are the negatives to this sort of aloneness. To see one’s self outside the context of a friendship or family and to just exist as an individual made up of whoever those people helped you become is incredibly eye opening. It has shown me more than once what type of people I choose to surround myself with and what kind of person I choose to display myself as.
Within my first few days in Rome I had found a group of girls that I decided to test the waters with. Experiencing people for the first time for me sometimes feels like a, “Do they get it?” test. I note what people laugh at and if our humors can align. I see the pace they walk at to confirm we can move with a purpose and minimize downtime when we have but 110 days to experience the eternal city. The list goes on and on, but as these new people are checking boxes on my own list, I know there are boxes my personality traits must also be checking for them.
On the second day of this group’s togetherness, this being the first time we dare to acknowledge that we are going to hang out again together and that all parties have agreed that enough boxes were checked to make this to day two, we walked to the local grocery store. As we’re walking, I begin hitting topics about what home life looks for different people, who also has two older brothers, majors, potential career ideas, and everything else that is usually answered followed by a smile and nod to fill the empty space before someone else can think of a new question.
Within moments of the uphill hike, a small and seemingly insignificant pebble gets kicked into my shoe, obviously noticed by no one but myself. Let me remind you these people walk with a gusto that I can typically appreciate when my shoe is rock- free. As we are booking it to the store and holding polite conversation the rock begins to take over my every thought as it is piercingly sharper every time I step down on my right foot. I keep walking so as not to interrupt the flow of conversation. Information is being exchanged and occasionally a good joke is being thrown down, but in the most dramatic way my mind can’t escape the sharp little rock.
As we progress on the journey everyone is adding their two cents and getting their boxes checked while I draw up scenarios of what would happen if I stopped to remove the stone, or if I should tell everyone to stop for a second, or if I should power through. I removed myself from conversation and became quiet. I’m not quiet.
I opted to stop. I let the group move forward and I removed the rock because now that I am out of the social comfort and context of home I am realizing who I want to be on my own rather than relative to anyone else. I see that I don’t want to be the type person who walks quietly with a rock in my shoe.
The rock is of complete insignificance and invisibility to everyone else, but for me it is there. The longer I walked with it, the more present it became.
Don’t walk with a rock in your shoe.
We all have rocks in our shoes at some point. When I was a freshman and realized I picked a school that couldn’t give me what I thought I wanted from my collegiate experience– that was a rock in my shoe. I had to weigh my options: Do I walk with my rock? Do I wait it out to see if the rock becomes less painful or my foot becomes numb to it? Do I ask someone to stop with me so I can handle my rock? Do I let the group continue moving forward and I’ll catch up when I catch up?
Challenges and rocks that seem insignificant can change the way we experience a conversation, our schooling, and our relationships. It is not impossible to ignore or power through them, but we should weigh the option of addressing them. This may be even more of the challenge.
To college freshman, middle schoolers, first year teachers, my best friends, my brothers, my future students, my classmates, my professors, and to myself: Know that there is more than one way to move forward. Know that it is okay to step back. Know that the world will not move on without you if you take the time to address the challenges that others may not see in your life.
As a new school year begins, please, don’t walk with a rock in your shoe.