I don't always consider myself part of the "Everything happens for a reason" school of thought. Although I believe that we can choose whether we let suffering strengthen us or destroy us, there are many tribulations in life that don't come with a prescribed silver lining. So I think that when we do find a silver lining, that's something really special. By the end of this semester, I was fortunate enough to find just that.
I lost a lot of things this semester. I quit my job, my bike was stolen, I dropped my double major, some of the most important people in my life decided it was time to drop out of it, and throughout many weeks of the semester, I had just plain lost the will to do anything. How did I get to that point? Well, let's start with the fact that whoever invented the phrase "sophomore slump" knew what they were talking about. When I was in high school, I wrote a speech about how our society praises the notion of "being busy," when the effects are actually detrimental to our own success and well-being. Well, I apparently never listen to anything I say, because four years later and there I was, ready to jump into my second year of college registered for 28 credits for my double major (6-credit piano lessons + 6-credit organ lessons + everything else). Not to mention, I had taken on a job as assistant organist at a church in Lakewood, Ohio, at the beginning of the semester.
For the first couple of weeks, I organized my schedule thoroughly and made time in each day for relaxation, exercise, and friends. However, it all started catching up to me as I started losing interest in some of my classes and having a harder time focusing, always thinking "what's next?" or "okay, I still need to get that done." I spread myself thinner and thinner, trying to balance piano practice with organ practice with church music practice with accompanying and with all the rest of my classwork. At the end of each week, I was ready for someone to just give me my trophy already and tell me I could go take a nap for the rest of the semester. But you don't get a trophy for being busy. The only reward you get is an even heavier workload after you've gone through with the first. Because unless you stop yourself and reevaluate your commitments, a busy schedule can't just be wished away.
So, I reevaluated my commitments. Although it was hard to leave my paycheck and organ experience behind, my boss was demanding an unrealistic amount of time from me, making the experience unpleasant for me, and my mental health was suffering. I don't consider quitting my church job giving up. I consider it taking care of myself. Success, learning, and taking care of yourself are not exclusive of one another.
On top of that, I started to realize that putting equal amounts of long practice hours into two instruments was a tall order, and after a lot of contemplation, I decided to switch to an organ minor, rather than major. So was taking on the major a mistake in the first place? Not one bit. Sometimes, you have to jump into things and experience them first-hand before you know exactly how you feel about them. I'm still doing a lot of work at the organ and hoping to make it a big part of my future, but I figured that I can still work hard at it without fulfilling the requirements for two majors. Plus, had I not joined the organ department, I may not have met some of my best friends.
The bliss of freshman year was well over: that initial period of time where the world looks like a candy shop, everyone wants to be your friend, and it feels like nothing can go wrong. So despite some of these bumps in the road, the biggest hurdle I had to deal with this semester was the abrupt withdrawal of some of the closest people in my life and some hurtful things that were said to me. I spent a lot of time questioning myself and questioning my trust in people. Was I scaring people away? Was I trusting people too much? But there's a fine line between self-awareness and undue self-criticism. And I decided I wasn't going to let the extreme disappointment I felt stop me from putting my trust in people I care about.
And in the midst of this loss and grief, I found my silver lining: good friends, who made me feel validated and safe in a time when it seemed as if all the people I had trusted were abandoning me. It feels like the popular mindset these days, among young adults especially, is that you should be able to handle things completely on your own, or else you're just weak and needy. But I, like everyone else on this planet, am a product of my surroundings. Being strong and needing support are not mutually exclusive. I survived this semester and overcame my own self-doubt because of the incredible people in my life: the late-night phone calls with my mom, the generous messages from my busy friends on opposite sides of the country, my supportive teachers, the friendly faces in the halls, and my Oberlin friends who manage to make me laugh to tears.
I am so happy. I am so thankful. I am not thankful for the suffering that has overwhelmed me this semester, but I am thankful for the people it led me to. Imagine two months of being trapped underwater, holding your breath and feeling like your lungs might burst. But then you reach the surface, and the mere ability to breathe suddenly feels like the greatest blessing. In hindsight, that was my semester. Although our struggles illuminate pain and suffering, they also illuminate the best things in our lives. Maybe these mountainous hurdles make us a little sadder or a little less trusting. But I think they also make us realize how meaningful every breath we take is and remind us that every good thing in our life is not to be taken for granted.