It is 8:04 on a Monday. I just had a three-day weekend. I am supposed to read multiple books for classes this week. I have assignments to finish I haven’t even looked at.
I talked about the problem with labeling ourselves tonight with a friend over coffee. Sometimes we get too caught up in labeling ourselves, and then we forget to simply show everyone who we are as people even though we live with these hidden truths. By labeling myself as an introvert to others, stereotypical ideas of people who sit in corners and never converse with the room may come to mind, and then it seems as though we could be thought of as lesser people. That’s not who we are though. We love spreading positivity and interacting one-on-one with people. Speaking to larger groups can be intimidating, but I have done it. Did I do it well? Doubtful. But Jo Rowling also wrote many pages before she was published.
This aspect of who I am is important because I have been struggling with it recently. As an introvert, I tend to recluse back to my individual space when I become overwhelmed or over-stimulated. I love enjoying time with friends, but it generally takes me longer to find my happy place again. Without this alone time, I become agitated, exhausted, unsympathetic. Without this alone time, I am not myself.
I shut down.
I didn’t realize this until I sat with someone who is also an introvert and who also needs this in order to revitalize and reenergize. I tried so hard to get this person to turn off his recharging mode while simultaneously forgetting that this is also my process. I forgot to empathize, which is one of the worst things to forget.
When I try to revive myself, I tend to resort to writing, reading, sleeping, or running. All of these activities are solo activities—human interaction is never needed. It’s never wanted or even desired. I do these things because I understand the importance of self-care. In this instance with another introvert though, I became selfish. It was unfair to him. I tried placing my needs over another person’s, and I hated myself for it. I should have known better.
The first week of classes exhausted me. I didn’t want to celebrate at the end of the week like most people. I wanted to hang out with those closest to me, which I did. I wanted to simply exist in the present. I wanted to create and write and laugh and revitalize. I almost fulfilled those desires.
Even so, I still forgot to recharge. I hated the thought of being alone because I knew if I were alone, I would start worrying about the future: graduation, graduate school, the end of honest innocence and naïveté. I was excited, but nervous. I didn’t want to miss out on filling every hour with those I love because I know those are the moments I will appreciate later. Everything will be different one year from now, and I tried to forget about these truths by resulting to avoidance. None of this helped my introvert ways, though. On my last day of the long weekend, I felt as though my nerves were as frayed as my hair because I so desperately needed to seclude myself at a table in The Cup or in Bracken with my laptop and process everything. Everything seemed to set me off or catch me off-guard. I was restless and agitated.
When I avoid making plans or tell people I am too busy even though I know all I am doing is spending the evening alone, it’s never personal. It’s never because I feel as though I need space from a particular person, and it’s not always because I want to run away from my problems.
I’ve realized I tend to surround myself with extroverts because those people help me step away from the corner in the room and join the conversation. They help me find homes within other people and test my boundaries. This is why when I meet other introverts, it catches me off-guard. I forget that other people are like me, I am not completely unique, and it takes a special kind of person to understand the importance of revitalization. It requires patience and empathy.
When I become overwhelmed, I remove myself from the onset of stimuli. It isn’t because I am depressed or angry or even sad. It’s simply because I need time to myself. I enjoy alone time and reflective thought.
I shut down, and that’s okay.
FOMO: The Feeling of Missing Out.
This phrase is used to often describe the feeling people—specifically those who use social media—experience when they see their friends living their best lives: Going on vacations, meeting glamorous people, filling every hour of every day with plans. It’s a strange feeling—almost guilt-like. It’s as though we feel guilty for hating that other people are genuinely enjoying their lives; however, we forget to remember that people only share their most filtered, streak-free, Windexed moments. They don’t share those moments when fingerprints cover the glass or when it gets too cold and ice is frozen to the windshield. They only show us those panes that have been wiped clean.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as my friends have been moving on with their lives. I’m in my last semester at Ball State University, and I could not be more grateful for the education I have received. I’ve had the ability to experience multiple areas of study, partake in an internship that completely changed my life, experience what it is like to publish a literary journal, and form relationships with friends and professors I will never forget. All of these opportunities and people shaped me, molded me, shook me, and helped me.
As I think about where I was when I entered Ball State and where I am now, I am grateful. I truly, wholeheartedly am. I’m thankful for every lost night of sleep, every hour spent in the library or at The Cup, and for every kind remark and critique on an essay.
Even so, I am a little sad.
My friends in the English department are applying to graduate schools all over the country—they are taking the grand leap across the canyon in order to figure out their proper footing. They are going on their own excursions in order to learn, expand, and succeed. They are doing exactly what I hope to do. My journey, though, isn’t as straight or as clear. I’ve had many career goals in the past because I was afraid to admit I want to make a career out of doing what I love, and for that, I have this weird feeling. It’s as though I’m being punished for taking those risks, but I know that isn’t the case. That isn’t how life unfolds. We do not receive punishments for taking chances on what is worthwhile, needed, and important.
Do I wish I had chosen Creative Writing as my concentration when I first entered Ball State as a freshman? It would have made this transition easier. I would probably even be applying to graduate schools right now, and this essay would not even exist. It would never come to fruition; however, I am thankful for the risks I took. I am thankful for my experiences in journalism and politics and secondary teaching. They all created this obtuse mold of what I hope for in my future. I have enough experience in journalism to tackle literary journalism and conquer my fear of meeting and hopefully interviewing my writing inspirations. I have experience in politics, and for that, I found my fire for social justice—it now fuels most of my writing. I have experience in secondary teaching, but I realize my true love would be to teach about the place in which my heart resides—the nonfiction classroom.
Even so, I am a little sad.
I have an entire year to take risks. I could be a server. I could find work in an office. I could get an internship with a literary agency. I could get an internship with a publishing house. I could work at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I could try the new millennial way of joining an online business and working from home. I could move across the country and work in a coffee shop. I have endless opportunities for how to spend my free year, but they all feel like roadblocks—like unnecessary potholes in my path.
I’m not writing this to whine, complain, or explain myself. I think I’m writing this to simply think. I’m trying to clear my head and gain a better vision for how to enjoy my last semester as a human without major responsibilities. Once I enter graduate school, I cannot stop the forward movement. I’ll begin writing nonfiction, and before I know it, those who choose to read my work will learn about the Lauren on the page. Granted, who I am on the page and who I am in real life tend to vary. I’m not always as upbeat as I sometimes seem. I’m not always as confused as I sometimes seem. I’m a conundrum of a human with dreams and hopes and worries and confusion. But that’s okay.
It was a Tuesday night. The wind howled and threatened the loss of power. Candles burned to somehow give us a perception of warmth, of comfort. The television bled blue across the hardwood floor. My outstretched feet rested on the coffee table before me. A full glass of wine rested against my hand and lap.
My throat constricted.
President Barack Obama stood before an audience in Chicago as he gave his final farewell filled with endearments and sewn together with admiration for this country he helped cultivate. In 2009, as an eighth grader, I cried when I watched his inaugural address in my junior high school’s library. I did not entirely understand what had just happened, but I knew it was monumental. I knew our country had witnessed an integral piece of history.
Four years later, I was able to be a part of that history. I flooded Twitter and Facebook with President Obama’s best moments, best speeches, and best qualities. It was never difficult. I never had to second-guess about whom I wanted to vote for because I understood the importance of inclusiveness and understanding. I wanted to vote for the poor, the single parents, the veterans, the teachers. I wanted to vote for the future of America.
At 6 a.m. on November 6, 2012, I made the trek across town with my mom so we could beat the rush at our polling location. I took a breath as I grazed my hand over the touchscreen ballot. I wanted to remember that moment. I wanted to remember the way my throat clenched and the way my face became hot. It was as though my body could not contain the emotion I felt as I hoped I had just helped Barack Obama receive a second chance in the White House. When we left the location, we celebrated by grabbing doughnuts and coffee for breakfast.
And then, that night when I returned home from my new job, I watched the election results on the living room couch with my mom. We buried our coffee table in snacks, but I cannot even remember what they were. It didn’t matter. It still doesn’t. What mattered was seeing those states turn blue. Indiana didn’t. It had lost faith since four years prior when it placed its trust in a Democrat’s hands for the first time since 1964. I didn’t though. I never did. I still haven’t.
Fast-forward to the evening of President Obama’s Farewell Address: My feet sat propped on a coffee table. I sat with someone who cares for the First Family just as much as I do. A candle burned in the background. I comforted myself with a blanket honoring my university. Snacks didn’t bury the coffee table this time, though. I was too upset to eat. A glass of wine rested in my hand. My face became hot again, but not from the blanket or the wine or the candle. Soft tears trickled from the corners of my eyes to my mouth and my shoulders. It was the end of an era.
Something I have always admired about President Obama has been his ability to form an intimate relationship with each person in the audience. His deep tone is conversational and relatable. His understanding of the Midwestern working-class struggle reverberates through every empathetic call to lend a hand to our neighbors regardless of socioeconomic status, religion, or race. His uncanny ability to make an audience laugh through tears of sadness will not be forgotten. His love for Michelle, Malia, and Sasha never went unnoticed. He promised our country hope, and he gave my generation inspiration to be better, do better, and love better.
Since his first election, Barack Obama had a knack for understanding the younger generation. He understood our need for belonging because we grew up during the in-between era: We went from VCRs to DVD players to Blu Ray players to streaming before we even graduated high school. We were raised by grandparents who fought in wars and parents who were forced to enter careers because of their lower socioeconomic statuses, yet we were told we can be whomever we want to be. We were raised in a country consisting of limitless opportunities generations before us never had.
When I talk to my peers, there is a commonality among their desired professions: We all want to help. We want to provide. We want to improve the world around us so it can be a little kinder and a little more generous. Their fields vary between Creative Writing and Family Studies and Nursing and Physics and Sports Administration, but they all want one thing: They see room for improvement, and they want to heal that wound.
President Obama spoke directly to us last night, fellow Millennials:
“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”
I’ve seen it too. I’ve seen it when it has been raining and dark and cold and sweltering and humid, but you wanted to help elect officials who you thought would help better this country in ways you saw fit. I saw it when there were thousands of you standing in line to watch candidates who were touring college campuses, and you didn’t care about the weather conditions because all you cared about was showing your support. I saw it when my friends began taking an interest in politics—not for partisanship, but rather, for the issues that mattered most to them. We want that inclusive society. We want to lend a hand to our neighbors. We want to spread love and kindness.
Yes we can.
Yes we did.
Thank you, President Obama.
Lauren is a Ball State University alumna with a Bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. She enjoys breakfast for dinner with a side of literary enjoyment.