My first month of college meant getting used to a monumental list of new things: being away from home, living with three other girls in a cramped room, and making a completely new set of friends, all in addition to classes. It’s a lot to be thrown in to. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve really really loved college so far. I love the friends I’ve made, my classes are so much more interesting than they were in high school, and I’ve just been having an awesome time. My biggest worry when I came to college was that I wouldn’t make any friends. I feared my nerves would turn me into an awkward wreck, or that nobody would like me. Luckily, that didn’t happen. I already feel like I have more close friends here than I ever had in high school, but I can’t shake the feeling that it could all come crashing down and I’ve been trying really hard to please everybody to make sure that that doesn’t happen.
As a result, I’ve tried too hard to be nice, at my own expense. I’ve been paranoid that if I reject a social invitation, if I neglect to be friendly one day, if I don’t reach out to enough people, that people will reject me and I’ll wind up lonely. My most problematic habit has been automatically saying “yes” to any social invitation without thinking about whether I actually want or have the time to attend. “Yes, I’ll go to the movie with you guys!” (Even though I want to go to the newspaper interest meeting instead and have a ton of homework to do…) “Yes! I would love to plant oysters this weekend to help the environment!” (Except that that sounds unfun and I’m crazy busy…)
The other day, I blatantly ignored my own feelings in order to please someone else. I “enthusiastically” accepted an invitation to a party from a guy that I didn’t know very well. I knew that there would be a lot of drinking there, which didn’t sound like fun, and, like I said, I barely knew the guy and had a bad feeling that he wanted it to turn into a date. Right after he left, I realized that I had made a mistake. I made up an excuse to get out of it, but it really concerned me that I’d accepted, even though the request made me uncomfortable. That was the moment when I realized how hard I’ve been trying to please the people around me. I’ve prioritized pleasing people above my homework, getting involved in school activities, and my own desires and comfort level. And that’s a problem.
In my head, ‘nice’ has always been my dominant self-descriptor. It’s the way that I’m described by a lot of people. At GLI, the staff asks girls to name the character traits that they like about themselves, and words like “nice”, “good friend,” and “caring” are not allowed. Not that those aren’t valuable qualities, but I think what they are getting at is twofold. First, ‘nice‘ is an external quality, it says more about the way that you act than the way that you are. You can’t be nice when you’re by yourself, but you can still be smart, passionate, creative, and funny.
Second, you can’t and shouldn’t act nice all the time! A lot of girls are under so much pressure to constantly be nice that they don’t express their needs for fear of being mean. And, as I found out, acting nice all the time is a good way to put yourself in unwanted, uncomfortable, and, even, harmful situations. In this past month, I’ve realized that I have to get over my fear of upsetting or inconveniencing people. I think I’ve been getting better. So, here’s to the first – and possibly most important – lesson that college has taught me so far: Be smart, quirky, and independent first; and sweet, nice, and caring second.