On the importance of messing up (as much as possible)


The three weeks leading up to freshman orientation, I didn’t sleep a wink. Late at night, I’d pace around the room, organizing and reorganizing, writing haikus. Basically being completely and utterly useless. Call it nerves.

That summer, someone had told me that college was the kindergarten of adult life. So really, I shouldn’t worry. He promised that these next four years would be as simple and fun as it could or would ever get.

In college, everyone is still figuring “it” out — figuring out what they want to study, figuring out which friends they want to call family, figuring out what they want to do with their lives, figuring out who they are today and who they will become tomorrow.

The best part is, here in the kindergarten of life, it doesn’t matter how many times you screw up. You can always try to restructure or reshape tomorrow; heck, some kids even repeat kindergarten. College is a blank slate for scribbling.

Each year was ours for the taking, each semester a new dawn, every day an opportunity to make new mistakes.

Take a look back at your underclassman self. Oy vey. Now come back, come back quickly. Who was that person? That wide-eyed 18-year-old version of yourself had no clue what was coming. But thank goodness you evolved.

Throughout college, we all keep on messing up until we find the “just right.” Some may call it the Goldilocks effect of the College of William and Mary experience.

Who among us hasn’t majorly screwed up on a test? Who hasn’t asked a professor a dumb question? Who hasn’t invested time in the wrong group of friends? Who hasn’t gone on an absolutely awful date? Who hasn’t questioned what was in that jungle juice? Who hasn’t felt that complete red-hot embarrassment of failure and shame?

But more importantly, who hasn’t stood up, brushed themselves off and changed direction?

Those out-of-character moments where we fall flat on our faces serve us better than the stretches of smooth sailing. In those moments we are thinking, learning, changing. This is really what we come to college for, isn’t it? That learning thing.

Over the years, we discover the right friends, the right classes, the right passions, activities and routines. We all discover what makes us happiest and what makes us our best selves.

Now that we’ve finally reached our “just right,” after embarrassing ourselves and failing so many times, we have to start all over again. We are being forced to surrender our precious, created happiness for the complete unknown and there is nothing we can do to stop this from happening.

A cruel joke, indeed.

As graduation looms on the horizon — about three weeks away, actually — those nerves I experienced the summer before college creep back. This time they present themselves in their cruelest form: senioritis. Whoops?

Come finals time, I’m sure I’ll look at these past few weeks as a mistake. Shoot, I really should have spent more time in Earl Gregg Swem Library and less time laughing on the terrace, enjoying great company at mug nights, or embarking on Tuesday night adventures.

But it’s not too late to make and learn from our final college mistakes. Let’s go out with a bang. Yes, we need to study and turn in those final papers. But who says that the last mistakes can’t be the most valuable ones? Now is the time to make some memories.

The fear is real. Graduation is coming. We will leave this place in less than three weeks. Somewhat subconsciously paralyzed by fear and plagued by senioritis, what should you do?

FREAK OUT. Just kidding, please don’t do that.

Harness those inevitable fears, because this time around, we know how to do so. The nerves mean we’re on the brink of something challenging, thrilling and bigger than we know. Yes, it’s going to be more difficult than we can currently understand. We are all going to screw up and fall on our faces.

But hey, that’s okay; at least, I like to think it is. We’ve learned from the kindergarten phase of our lives, and now, we’re only on to first grade.

May we always continue learning.

Ariel Cohen in a Confusion Corner columnist and she would like to thank you for reading The Flat Hat these past four years. It means the world to her.


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