How My Disappointing College Experience Helped Me Understand Valuable Lessons About Failure

By Jessica Freeman

I had never really understood the word “resilient”, used to describe a person who has gone through trauma and come out stronger for it, until long after my disappointing college experience. Truth is, I had not expected to be disappointed at all. In fact, I was expecting an exhilarating social and intellectual experience.

But life doesn’t work out that way. Luckily. Because if it did, I would never had had the opportunity to rise after my fall, as one of the wisest men in the world, Nelson Mandela said, and experience the glory of living!

I was 18 and had never been away from my parents in my life, yet, come college, I was determined to study in another city. Although I lived in a big city, my world was very narrow. My parents only mixed with other middle-class people like them; and so, frankly, did I. I felt slightly claustrophobic, and longed to meet other people from different places, with different skin colors, different religions, different upbringings.

My parents were reluctant to let me go, but were reassured as a good friend from high school, Adele, was also coming. We spent months planning our getaway, and so it was incredibly exciting to arrive at our college dorm one fine morning. My hometown was inland; this college was by the sea; surrounded by forest. Very different from what I knew.

I must mention that I was quite naïve, had never had a boyfriend, and was still a virgin. Adele, on the other hand, had had a two-year relationship with an older man, and was much more worldly wise than me. I mention this because I really depended on her socially.

And it was great. At first. We swam at the beach. We had long chats over dinner. We were a team.

And then one evening, she met a man. She had gone for a walk on the beach, and been chatted up by a doctor. She was only 19, and he was 35. He had a car. He had money.

And so, long story short, she disappeared from my life!

This was not what I’d expected. Definitely not what I’d signed up for. I had not ever considered that she would not be around for me. I hadn’t made any effort to make other friends, at that point, relying totally on Adele.

I was shy and retiring. I was certainly not the life of the party. I did not know my way around town, and was not intrepid enough to find my go exploring on my own. I also discovered that I did not have any interests which could help me join a club to make friends. I had always loved reading, and that was what I was studying. But I was no good at photography, any kind of sport, or even pottery.

As winter set in, my mood darkened. I began to spend more time in bed. It got so that some days I did not get up. I also began to eat a lot, and soon put on ten kilos. My parents worried when they could not get hold of me. My fellow residents in my dorm were also concerned. (I might add here that I was not the only one not coping: amongst us was a girl hooked on cough mixture – not for a sore throat – and one who threw up after meals.)

College was very hard for many of us, socially. I had worked so hard to convince my parents to let me study away, and here I was, a fat depressed mess. I felt a lot of shame and failure. My self-esteem was negligible.

After six months, I knew I had to leave. It was embarrassing, and I had no idea what I would do next.

And so I arrived home. I had to eat a lot of humble pie, and answer a lot of questions about why I was back. I took a job in a bookshop for six months, and in the following year, enrolled at my home town university.

I had grown up by now. I had a dashing musician boyfriend who had a little scooter. I chose subjects I loved at college, and enjoyed the studying. I came out of my shell and found warm, loving friendships with awesome women, some of whom will remain friends for life.

I approached my new college with a completely different attitude: I was active socially and politically, and ultimately got a great education.

I learned a lot that dreadful six months though. Both my college experiences shaped me – for the better, I like to think.

I learned that life throws you curve balls, and you have to face them head on. I learnt that dropping out from one thing does not mean you are a drop out. Life is not a straight path. One minute you’re heading north, the next you’ve turned east. I learned that that’s okay. Being human is about accepting being imperfect, and carrying on.

I also learnt some lessons about friendship. I have come to believe the adage “friends for a reason, friends for a season; friends for life”. Adele was a friend for a reason: we were both going to the same college. We did not end up friends for life. I learned that that’s fine. People come in our lives and some stay and some go, and we should accept their presence with joy and their absence without bitterness.

Most importantly, I learned to be compassionate with others who struggle, at different times of their lives, and not to judge them. I am a much kinder person than I would have been, had I not had this experience.



Jessica Freeman is a freelance writer at Australian Writings. She is interested in traveling and online learning. She enjoys writing on education, technology innovations, and blogging tendencies. Find out more about Jessica’s work by visiting her writing tips blog. Follow Jessica on Google+ and Twitter.

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