I’ve finally made it to Santa Cruz.
On Saturday, I drove down with my family bright and early, got all my things unloaded and unpacked, and started to settle into my new home. Everything was going far smoother than I expected: my room felt homey and personal already, filled with pictures and objects that are filled with meaning and importance to me. There were no arguments and hardly any frustrated snips as we buzzed around, trying to get everything squared and away before family was supposed to leave at 3:30.
“This is great.” I thought to myself, “I’ve totally got this college thing down.”
After we said our goodbyes, my family left for the Bay, leaving me in awe of the whole ordeal. I wouldn’t be driving back home, I wouldn’t be sleeping in my own bed that night, I was going to stay here…live here. It felt completely surreal, and yet, not as intimidating or dreadful as I thought it was going to be.
A friend who I’d met at orientation in the summer invited me to get coffee, and I was grateful for the distraction. I didn’t want to sit alone in my dorm, letting the newness get to me. As we walked through downtown, drinking our Verve and pointing out cool murals or interesting artwork on the street, I couldn’t help but smile. I could see myself living here, and more than that, I could see myself living here. All was well.
That is, until I got back to my dorm and went to unlock the door.
I dug through the plastic case on the end of my new UCSC lanyard. My ID was there, my laundry card was there, my emergency contact list was there…no key. I instantly started to panic. Where could it be? Did I leave it somewhere? Did it fall out? Did I throw it away with the trash we’d taken out? Did my parents accidentally pocket it?
I wandered out into the quad and found a student wearing a shirt that designated him as a COLLEGE GUIDE.
“Hey…I’m going to be that obnoxious freshman that locked themselves out the first day.” I said, an embarrassed smile on my face that would hopefully convey my embarrassment and humility about the situation.
“No worries, happens all the time during the first week. I’ll walk you to the Housing Office.” he said. There, I was given a temporary key (which was placed on a lanyard for me, as though to say “please don’t lose this one“), which I was to return as soon as I found the other one. As soon as I got back to my dorm, I tore the room apart searching for it. I unmade my bed, laid on my belly on the floor and peered under the furniture, tore through the recycling.
By this time it was nearing 6 o’clock, when I was supposed to meet my floor residents out in the quad for ice breakers and a community dinner. I found what I thought was my floor, and I spent the entire evening getting to know “my floor mates.” I started to learn some names, and felt a little bit better about the franticness of the evening so far. During the community dinner I looked around and thought, “Hey, these people seem pretty nice. I could get used to this.”
When we all filed back to the dorms, however, I realized my mistake. I thought I had joined the right group, but it was actually the reverse of my floor. For the sake of simplicity, if I’m in Building A on floor B, then I went to Building B floor A. During our floor meeting with our RA I looked around at the sea of strangers I’d accidentally avoided the entire evening. I wondered if they thought I was weirdly antisocial, or that I’d been hiding in my dorm all day, or if I didn’t want to be their friends.
I had accidentally ostracized myself.
That night I locked myself in my room and cried. It felt like I’d messed up a million different ways in just the first night alone. I’d lost my key, failed to properly bond, gotten turned around about 500 times and taken the Magellan route around the school all day, and, for some reason, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was that I’d used the all-forbidden push pins to decorate my walls because someone at orientation told me it was okay.
So I did what any college freshman does on their first day when everything goes wrong: I called my mom.
And mostly I just cried, and told her how everything was falling apart and how it must be a bad omen of some sort. She reassured me that everything would be okay and my mistakes were no big deal. Eventually I called Ryan, who reminded me that “college is hilariously bad” and you just have to laugh everything off if you want to have a good time. I hardly listened, but eventually I was so exhausted by the day I had to go to bed and hope that the next day would be a fresh start.
At first it was. I woke up to birds singing and silvery morning light filling my room and a beautiful view of redwoods through my window. I grabbed my mat and headed outside, careful to bring my key, and practiced on a deck outside the Namaste Lounge. I wanted the sun get higher and higher until it shot through the branches of the trees all around me. The weather was perfect- cool but not cold, warm but not hot, with a gentle breeze that seemed to carry the ocean all the way into the forest. I walked back to my room with a skip in my step. Everything seemed to be turning out okay.
Back at the dorms, I headed to the showers. They were cleaner and nicer than I’d expected them to be. I dried off, walked down the hall in my flip flops, and went to unlock my door…only to be reminded with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that my key was lying on the desk inside.
Wrapped in my towel, I scurried back to the bathrooms and threw on the clothes I’d thankfully brought with me. I wandered down into the quad, where I ran into a kid with no shoes.
“Hey, how you doing?” He asked.
“Good…ish. I locked myself out.” I said.
“Me too. I just called the RA on duty, she’s gonna let me in. I’m going to meet her in the Housing Office.”
Thank goodness. I followed him to the HO, a location I was sadly already familiar with. The RA handed him his temporary key, and then turned to me. “Room number?”
I gave it to her, then warned, “I actually locked the temporary key in there. I don’t know where my other key went. I can’t find it.”
“No worries,” she said with a poor freshman smile, “I’ll get you the backup.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. There was a backup! I’d get into my room, have time to get breakfast, wouldn’t even be late for my mandatory assembly. I may have messed up, but at least there was an easy solution.
That is, until the RA realized the backup was missing.
“I’ve never had this happen before,” she said, a little bit of panic in her voice, “Let me call my supervisor.”
She pulled out her phone, and I listened to one end of the conversation.
“Hi! Oh..sorry to wake you up…yeah…I have a student here, their backup key is missing and they locked the temporary in their room….yeah…I’m sorry…okay…see you soon.”
I cringed. I was that person who’d woken up the supervisor.
“She’s coming with the master. She’ll walk you back and let you in.”The RA said, still smiling even though I was being a hassle. I apologized profusely, telling her I was so embarrassed and I was sorry to cause so much trouble the first morning. She reassured me that it was okay, mistakes happen, there are lots of lockouts the first few weeks…but I still felt horrible.
As I walked back to my dorm, I berated myself in my head. I should have been more careful, shouldn’t be so forgetful, should be more mindful. Suddenly, I was reminded of something a teacher had once told me:
“Should” is one of the most toxic words in our language.
The second we begin to think that we “should” be one way, or “shouldn’t” be another way, we negate our feelings, emotions, and circumstances of the present moment. In allowing ourselves to create this dialogue in our head, we invite in self-doubt and self-deprecation that only serves to make the situation worse. I tried to zoom out, to see these events from a wider lens. I had just moved out of my house for the very first time, I was living “alone” for the very first time, hell, I was using a key to lock my door for the first time. First times are filled with mistakes, with learning opportunities.
When I first began practicing yoga, I can guarantee you I made a million mistakes. My updogs were undoubtedly putting unnecessary strain on my back, I couldn’t keep the warriors straight, and my chaturangas were a hot mess. When I first started Olympic lifting (and even today, as a person relatively new to the practice), I new nothing and made endless mistakes in regards to form and terminology as I got acclimated.
In those environments, I was able to move past my mistakes and see them as a means to improvement, why couldn’t I do that here?
This summer I dedicated myself to being a student. To stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying something new that would, hopefully, better me as both an athlete and a person. Now I’m realizing the greater reason behind it: it was to prepare me for this, for college. I’m still learning, still learning the terminology and keys to success just like I did in yoga and lifting. The greatest thing I learned from those endeavors was graceful humility, and now it’s time to apply it.
All these little mistakes, all these little missteps, they are just movements in the right direction that are a little uncomfortable. It’s like moving uphill- at first it feels uncomfortable and maybe even painful, but eventually you reach the peak and can coast the rest of the way, only running into a few bumps here and there. I’m putting in the ugly, uncomfortable work now so that I can find my routine and my ease later. And while I might be embarrassed by these mishaps and mistakes today, they will certainly become a laughable memory somewhere down the line.
So while I may not have it all figured out, and I may be tripping my way uphill at the moment, I’m working my way to the top. I’m seeking my peak.
I’m finding my way.