Growing up, I have always had this aching need to make others happy. I thought that by doing everything by the book, everything expected of me, that I would find my own happiness in knowing I never did anything to let anybody down. I wanted to accomplish things so that others would be proud of. I wanted to be perfect in the eyes of everyone I knew.
I got by living this way for a solid twenty-something years. I went to Catholic school and was a “star student.” I rarely broke the rules. I graduated high school with distinction. I was in a long term relationship with a guy my family loved. Wasn’t a teen mom. Wasn’t addicted to drugs. I moved away to college and graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 3 years. My life seemed to play out in a way in which I thought, “this is too good to be true.” I was right, but I didn’t know then what I know now.
Spring semester of my senior year of undergrad, my world slowly felt like it was crashing down. All this hard work over 21 years brought nothing but rejection after rejection to graduate programs for my chosen field. My love life was rocky. I lost connection with friends. Things were going on in my life that I never thought I’d face. I felt worthless. I felt as if I had wasted all of my time and worked hard for nothing. This didn’t seem right. It didn’t seem fair.
Instead of sitting down and putting immense thought into my future, I hastily accepted a spot into a program at a school that I did not care for. It was the first acceptance letter I had seen in months, and I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it was an easy fix. My parents wanted me to go there, my friends went there, and I wouldn’t have to endure a “gap year” — something that I didn’t think I needed until now.
I lasted an entire two years in that program — halfway through getting a Master’s degree — only for me to pass the point of no return and have a mental breakdown. From the outside, nobody would have ever known. My grades did not suffer, but my mental health did. I was faking a smile, telling people I loved my school and I loved my potential career choice. I felt as if everyday I was living a lie. I knew I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t want others to know it.
Everyday, I would wake up and go to bed anxious. I was afraid of backing out because I didn’t want others to see me as a failure. I wanted to prove that I could overcome hardship. That although my original dream did not come true, I could make it better. But instead, I was only making it worse. I lost friends. My stress put a damper on a new relationship. I went out more. I ate less. I tried so hard to find a glimmer of happiness to keep me going. I tried until the very end, until I decided to be brave and to forget what everyone else thought.
I remember leaving my now-old school after my last cumulative final. That was the day I learned I got accepted to a school I loved into a program of my dreams. I cried the entire drive home. How would I tell my parents that I decided to change my mind? How would they react to me getting accepted into a different program at a different school? This would be my third college and I only have one degree, would they be mad?
It was the overwhelming excitement and support from my boyfriend and my best friend that made me realize something — nothing else matters but my own happiness. Why wasn’t I proud of myself for getting into a program that only accepts 20 students? Why wasn’t I proud of myself for being brave enough to walk away — walk away from fear, from stress, from a life I didn’t want?
My friends and family could not believe all I have endured inside of my head. My mother was upset I didn’t share any of this with her so that she could help me get through it. The more I opened up, the more I saw that I made the right decision. I had nothing to be afraid of. I don’t regret it, but I wished I had found help long before I realized I needed it.
It took time, but I am here. I am ecstatic knowing that in one short week, I will be pursuing something that I love. Contrary to my prior beliefs, I do not see anything that I have been through as a failure. It was terrible, but I would not take any of it back. Sometimes, the road to your happiness can be rocky. Hardships are brought into your life to be a stepping stone to get you where you need to be. It won’t happen overnight, but things do get better. I am surrounded by love and support, I am excited for my future, and — most importantly — I am happy.