Day 1: I don’t want to get out of bed. The frustration, the self-hatred, the anger… I can feel my emotions cycling through my head in a painful loop. I want to be normal. Normal people don’t have to deal with this. Normal people can get married and have kids. Normal people are happy.
I feel helpless.
About two months into school freshmen year, I was at a breaking point. Since middle school, I knew some of my feelings were “wrong.” I convinced myself “wrong” would turn to “right” after arriving at college, but by October, I could no longer ignore what was happening. In acknowledging my sexuality that October, a new journey began.
I graduate on Friday. I spent days thinking about how I wanted to structure this piece. Chronologically, academically focused, professionally geared etc., each of these formats would present a story – but, not necessarily my story. I realized that as I honestly reflect on my last four years, one theme connects all of my experiences: the search for self-acceptance.
Acknowledging my sexuality was one thing; embracing, or even considering it OK, was another entirely. In those first few days, I had to force myself to verbalize those words. Words that for years had been used around me as derogatory slurs, but now were defining of my life. These definitions felt foreign.
Coming out highlighted more central feelings I had towards myself. Feelings of rejection. Feelings of inadequacy. Feelings of self-critique. All of these voices were amplified when faced with such a transformational moment. Although “Day 1” meant I could put to rest the practical nature of who I am attracted to, the larger journey of accepting myself for who I am, and not who I feel I should be, was just beginning.
Day 96: What will they think when I tell them the truth? It’s been more than three months, but I still can’t imagine telling my best friends what I’ve been holding inside. What if they’re offended? What if everything changes…
It was around this time midway through my freshmen year that I first discovered Brené Brown. Brown lays claim to one of the most watched TED Talks ever, entitled “The Power of Vulnerability.” Her talk was a turning point for my outlook on the world and self-understanding.
Vulnerability. When we hear it, we repel – out of connotations of being at risk, in danger, powerless etc. Brown reclaims the word; arguing that making ourselves vulnerable is the single greatest key to building human connections and relationships. Vulnerability empowered me to find self-acceptance and appreciation.
I began the process of telling my best friends the truth. Such conversations had seemed impossible a few short weeks earlier but now felt like the natural next step in my progression. With each successive conversation, I was amazed by the changing nature of my friendships – turning towards mutual acceptance, empathy, support, and understanding. These feelings built with momentum, pushing me further and further along the path of self-acceptance. Vulnerability had led to empathy, empathy had led to understanding, and understanding had led to acceptance. Through the rest of freshmen year and into sophomore year, I followed this theme. It was helping me to see myself in a completely different light and get closer to presenting my “true self” to those around me.
Progress, though, ebbs and flows.
Day 577: I am an outsider within. One person around my close friends, another around my brothers. I can’t help but feel I am moving backward.
By junior year, my journey towards self-acceptance had come a long way. I was doing a better job at seeing my achievements and not searching artificially for failures. Seeing success before critique. Feeling proud before insecure. I could see myself doing well academically, maintaining the finances of my fraternity as treasurer and exploring fulfilling extracurricular activities.
I thought I could keep fraternity life isolated – a separate “me,” conforming to the heteronormative environment “Greek-life” presents. Instead, it served as a reminder of the progress I still had to make. By the end of the fall semester of my junior year, I was ready to make that change. In a speech to my brotherhood, I discussed what it felt like be an outsider within. In making myself completely vulnerable to a cohort of 80 of my peers, I recognized that the barriers to my ability to thrive were as artificial as I deemed them to be. That day, I made a declaration for myself. A commitment to accept the thoughts, desires, aspirations, priorities that circled my head as valid.
Each of these moments feels like a natural progression in reflection, a piece of a larger puzzle. While connecting the dots seems easy looking backward, as I arrived at each new junction, I had no idea what lay ahead. I was anxious, scared, uncertain. I had no timeframe, no schedule, no expectations; yet, somehow one development after another flowed together in a way that defies prediction or planning.
I had the incredible opportunity my spring semester of my junior year to study abroad at Kings College London. More than anything else, my time abroad calmed my mind and allowed me to realign my priorities. When I arrived back at campus for my final year, that focus centered squarely on making the most of my remaining months in college and contemplating where I wanted to go next.
Day 1188: Rejection. One job application after another. I know I am qualified. I know I will find the right path, but I can’t help but be frustrated by the uncertainty of the future and this feeling of inadequacy.
At first, professional rejection felt personal. It reminded me of days when I viewed myself hyper-critically. Over the course of this past semester, though, I have made tremendous progress in how I process rejection. Coming from a place of self-acceptance, rejection becomes more transactional; their needs and my value do not align. Moreover, I have learned that applying a dosage of vulnerability to job applications is necessary for me to find the right fit. Having honest conversations with employers about my own priorities, my own value and areas where I still need to improve have resulted in far more productive discussions. Approaching professional opportunities from a position of self-confidence and empowerment has been transformational. I am confident it will lead me to a new role after college that is both fulfilling and impactful.
I graduate on Friday. I get chills when I think about what has happened in four short years. I tend to focus on what’s been going on in my head and give less credit to my tangible endeavors. In this period of self-discovery, I have maintained a 4.0 GPA through eight semesters and two degrees. I have set myself up on a path of impact and discovery volunteering for Crisis Text Line and writing on this medium. To be honest, I can’t remember a time in my life where I have paused, taken stock of my achievements and felt like those accomplishments are truly mine to own. Now is that time.
I don’t see this as a finish line; simply the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. Yet, as I enter that new chapter I bring with me new truths:
I have worth.
I can have impact.
And, I accept all of who I am.
Day 1: “I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there.”
– Charlie, The Perks of Being Wallflower
Thank you for reading. Until next time,
PS: In two short weeks I will be moving back to San Francisco to explore job opportunities in data, analytics and strategy oriented roles in the tech industry. I am thrilled to move back to the Bay Area for work. As I search for the right opportunity, I will be interning this summer at an exciting socially impactful firm, Soma Water. I would love to reconnect with anyone in the area. I look forward to continuing this journey.