I’m sure there are a lot of words people would use to describe me. In sixth grade, my teacher had us write down a word that described each of our classmates, which she then compiled and handed out to each student. I’m sure she did a little editing, but mine were pretty mild and what I had expected; nice, smart, fun, etc. The kind of words you use to describe the good-natured, sort of nerdy girl that gets along well with others. Nothing that really screamed, “this girl is going to go out there and change the world.”
I would say I developed a little more character by high school. At that point I was also more interested in hearing what other people were saying about me; perfectionist, over-achiever, academic, etc. The kind of words you use to describe the determined girl who is set on being in every possible club she can join while maintaining her 4.0, planning out her future career and making sure to do everything exactly right in order to attain an uncompromising standard of success she had set for herself.
By college I was able to describe myself; organized chaos. Though surrounded by loving and supportive family and friends, I felt like I was constantly falling short of the goals I had set for myself. By the middle of my sophomore year I worked too many jobs, took too many credit hours, involved myself in too many clubs, enveloped my time in too many dramatic relationships and found myself still without a major. In my mind, I had already failed. I was completely and utterly directionally challenged.
Luckily my incessant planning provided me with an escape—I had arranged to study abroad in Northern Ireland for my spring semester. The Honors College recommended waiting until your junior or senior year before heading across the globe to live on your own, out of touch with anything that remotely resembled your comfort zone. Some students, they warned, didn’t fare well so far away from home when they were still adjusting to the realities of being on their own at college, let alone 4,000 miles away with limited resources and methods of communication. But I had made up my mind and there was no turning back.
I cannot in this one post relay even a margin of the adventures I faced while I was abroad– those stories are better suited for another time, another couch and another glass of wine. Instead, I choose to narrow the focus of those first six months into one, all-encompassing discovery. Amongst strangers who became friends, cultures that inspired thought, landmarks that drew tears and experiences that etched permanently on my heart and mind, I found my internal compass. I discovered that I can make it on my own. I can push just a little but farther outside my limits and learn something new about myself. I can set aside worry, stress and my struggle for perfection every once in a while and have a little fun. Most importantly I can learn to love this girl, no matter how she is described.
I am still directionally challenged. My compass doesn’t always point north, it sometimes spins out of control, and I sometimes panic when it changes direction on me when I’m most counting on it to set me on a permanent path in the right direction. But a compass is only as good as the person interpreting it, and I think that over time I’ll learn to navigate a little better, set a steady path and keep trudging ahead in whichever direction it points as I continue to see and experience all I can.
In the meantime, I would now describe this girl, who is set out to, in some small way, make her mark on the world as it continues to make its mark on her, as me. Welcome to Heather’s Compass.