Everything I need to know, I learned in college
Many like to call this little experience "college."
Excited about the prospect of leaving behind nagging parents and watchful eyes to create a world that was all mine, I entered my 2-by-4 dorm room as a freshman with a head full of hope and arms filled with Yaffa blocks.
But as the completion of my junior year at the university approaches, I'm beginning to wonder what happened to that girl who was so gung-ho three years ago.
I think I probably started slipping away the first time I got sick at school. The stress of new classes and friends ripped my immune system to shreds and I was left nursing myself back to health. The feeling of isolation hit me when I was sitting cross-legged and alone in my room, hunched over a bowl of stiff Ramen soup that refused to cook thoroughly.
So this was what it meant to be independent.
But something was missing. Where was the sense of accomplishment that was supposed to come with it? I sure as hell didn't feel like a stronger person -- I just wanted to run home to Mommy so she could rub my back soothingly and write notes dismissing me from schoolwork.
But she wasn't there with me, and all I had to lean on were other confused kids who were just as pathetic as me.
Freshman year launched a roller coaster that would be my independent life. I've never felt such dramatic highs as when my friends and I would pull all-nighters just because we could. But the lows I would hit when I was stressed out with schoolwork would cause my body to shutdown to the point that I couldn't move.
I kept thinking that all the good grades and friends weren't worth the trouble and dealing with such hardships weren't normal or healthy. I hit a point when I seriously thought there was no way I could survive four years of this kind of torment.
And then I heard a story about a kindergarten class that captured a caterpillar.
They kept the creature in a little cage and fed it when needed. Pretty soon, the caterpillar started to take strides toward the next stage in life as it built itself a cocoon.
The children would check the mini terrarium each morning, anxiously awaiting the day something winged and colorful would pop out and fly away.
Finally, the day came and the class gathered as the little being inside the cocoon started to poke its way through the shell it had built for itself.
The kindergartners winced as they watched the butterfly wiggle its way through the tiny hole in the tough exterior of the cocoon. They began coaxing the butterfly to hurry up and come out because they didn't like watching it struggle.
A bright butterfly finally emerged and, after the shock of the rebirthing process wore off and the children's excitement in their new friend died down, they released it in the playground.
A few days later, a child found another cocoon while playing outside, and the class decided to adopt it. Only with this cocoon, when it came time for the butterfly to emerge, the children resolved to do the creature a favor and ease it into the world. They punctured a wider hole in the end of the cocoon so the butterfly wouldn't have to squirm so much to make its debut into the world.
It came time once again for the class to gather around their makeshift natural environment. When the butterfly slid right out of the cocoon, the children cheered and smiled at their teacher triumphantly. But moments later, when the celebration subdued, the children turned their focus back to the butterfly and their smiles faded.
The butterfly wasn't fluttering excitedly around the terrarium like their last subject, but was instead hobbling from corner to corner with a limp and droopy wing.
The struggling of the first butterfly served a purpose in removing a gooey substance from its wings and helped to strengthen the appendages during those first crucial minutes of its life.
The second butterfly, whose re-entrance into the world was definitely less torturous for both the butterfly and the children, hadn't been developed properly and would be paralyzed for life.
One little story about a butterfly is definitely not enough to make all of the difficult things in my life disappear, but it puts some things into perspective.
I've realized all the tough spots in my life are there to help me grow. When my old roommate and I couldn't settle our differences and didn't talk to each other for a year, it taught me the value of friendship. When I took 18 credits, joined the crew team, had a job, wrote for The Review and participated in numerous clubs last semester, I experienced the true definition of burn-out.
But while at the time these seemed torturous, I know now that I have come out on top. I'm a better person for it.
One of my favorite quotes from the religious leader `Abdu'l-Baha is: "The more you plow and dig in the soil, the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree, the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding, the better it cuts."
It's not a new concept -- hardships building character -- but many times we don't see the immediate effects and tend to get discouraged.
Studying for finals, I curse the teachers while I scramble to finish the work I have due instead of realizing that completion of the course will bring me one step closer to graduation.
If these hardships become more intense as the years go on, who knows where I'll be by the time graduation rolls around or even a few years past that?
I can't say that I'll welcome all the difficulties that come to me with open arms, but at least I know that I'm not going to be the one stuck with droopy wings.
Cory Penn is the assistant features editor for The Review. Send comments to email@example.com.