It seems that whenever you reach a “milestone” in your life, everyone always asks “So, do you feel any different?” At birthdays it’s always, “So, do you feel older?” Most of the time, the answer is no. Why would one mostly-uneventful day make such a big difference in how you feel in the skin you’ve been walking around in every day?
But for the first time, after graduating from college, I feel very different.
I feel like an “adult” in ways that I never felt when I turned 18, or when I graduated from high school, or when I turned 21, or at any other time. I suddenly feel an incredible sense of freedom that I can barely describe.
As some of you know, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of “true freedom” lately. Actually, I suppose I’ve sort of always been obsessed with the idea, but recently I’ve been describing it in those terms and trying to discover what TRUE FREEDOM really is, and how to achieve it. Currently, I’ve collected lots of different little bits and pieces that I think are aspects of it, but it’s definitely an ongoing project.
Another concept that I’ve been mulling over for years is the idea of “cages.” Again, a lot of you have probably heard me spew about this idea. I want to understand it fully and eventually be able to eloquently describe it to the world somehow (Via a novel? A concept album? Visual art? Still unsure). It’s a big, overarching life philosophy that I think is very important in the pursuit of “true freedom.”
(I tend to think in metaphors CONSTANTLY, so please bear with me).
Basically, you’re always inside a cage. Or, more accurately, a series of cages. Whether you see it or not, and whether you like it or not, you’re caged by so many things–your own fear, relationships, school, societal norms/expectations, a career path, the opinions of others, addictions, etc.
Sometimes you allow yourself to be caged for a while because it will lead to something good in the long run (school). Sometimes you accept some of your cages, because they’re comfortable and safe. Maybe you even “grow fond of your cage,” depending on what it is.
But I’m proposing the idea that CAGES ARE INHERENTLY LIMITING. They limit your freedom and happiness. They prevent you from reaching your full potential. Most people choose to permanently dwell in cages–truly, the idea of being uncaged is incredibly frightening in some ways.
But I think it’s a valuable and worthwhile exercise in personal growth to try to identify the cages in your life, and attempt to leave them. Because the funny part about most cages is that the door is left open. It’s your choice to stay or go.
The more cages you can escape, the closer you get to TRUE FREEDOM.
Those of you close to me already know this, but I might as well just make it known to everyone. I’ve dealt with a lot of issues with anxiety and perfectionism for years. It’s been quite distressing and limiting in a lot of ways, so this semester I decided to finally get some help and started seeing a therapist at my university. While I was abroad in the fall, I realized how much these things held me back from the kind of life I want–and I just plain got sick of living like that.
The whole process has involved a long series of “Eureka”s and some painful reflection, but I feel like I’ve grown so much for the better. My therapist and I approached my anxiety disorder in incredibly scientific terms, which worked really well for me considering my tendency to approach EVERYTHING analytically.
But perhaps the most important part of the experience was when we identified some of the origins of my anxiety and perfectionism–what had MADE me think and feel inadequate and inherently worthless.
It was then I saw the bars of a huge cage I had never even known existed– The Cage of Worth.
I had never considered it, but for years and years I’ve seen myself as worthless until proven otherwise. I approached everyone nearly groveling for approval, bending over backwards to try and “prove” that I’m worth something. Every mistake seemed to confirm my worthlessness–if I didn’t do perfectly in school, if I didn’t dress well, if I didn’t please everyone in social situations, how was I supposed to feel like I was worth anything?
It was always so strange for me, because I wanted so badly to be praised. But the praise never felt good or uplifting. It always felt undeserved at base, but somehow necessary. By the time I’d worked so hard to garner the praise, it almost made me sick to look at myself–a sort of grinning, insecure puppet with no will of my own.
The idea of inherent worth is something that I’m just awakening to right now. I’ve felt so worthless to the point that I’ve never even wanted to have feelings of my own that “inconvenience” anyone else. The idea of valuing myself just because I’m myself seems totally foreign to me, and almost narcissistic.
I’m just starting to step outside the Cage of Worth, and it’s a kind of frightening new territory that I’m not sure how to traverse. But it feels good, too. It feels deliriously good and free to be able to react to things naturally, without scrutinizing my every action or thought.
The growth of my self-worth is manifesting itself in so many ways. It’s wonderful, for the first time in my life, to feel physically attractive. Instead of looking at all the things I find wrong with myself, I can actually see and appreciate beauty in my own body. It’s also wonderful to allow my brain to produce creative thoughts, no matter how weird, and cherish them without fear that I am somehow a strange person. Actually, no, it’s even MORE wonderful to acknowledge that I might very well be a “STRANGE PERSON,” but that’s okay, because it makes me happy to be myself. It’s wonderful to allow myself to have feelings–to cry, to laugh, to be angry–and to express them without fear.
I’m no longer apologizing to everyone for my existence. I’m no longer apologizing for my opinions, thoughts, or desires.
Like I said, this is a process. I’m sure there are still times when I’ll feel like I need to be something or act a certain way, and I’ll bend to my fears.
But now I see the bars. I am aware of my cage, and I want to break free from it.
So yes, I do feel different now, after graduating from college. I know I’m breaking free from a cage already by finishing school. Toward the end of the semester, I felt like I was just jumping through hoops. I love learning, but I feel like academia has really finished serving its purpose for me right now… I got tired of trying to “prove” my worth through papers and quizzes, and I even got tired of having to show up to class.
I have absolutely no intention to halt my education–first of all, living in a foreign country by myself is an educational experience in itself. I love learning from other people. People absolutely fascinate me, and I love hearing their stories and being able to empathize with them. I learn so much about the human condition just by listening to others, and feeling what they feel.
Additionally, I love reading, I love discovering new art and films… I’m incredibly curious and excited about experiencing EVERYTHING. I feel like it got to the point that the “trappings” of education were kind of holding me back from EDUCATION, you know?
So for the first time in about 17 years, I am no longer a “student.” I’ve shed a role that’s defined me for nearly my whole life, and it feels so good to leave it behind. It also puts a lot more responsibility on me–it’s so easy to “prove” that you’re doing something worthwhile with your life when you’re in school. “Look, I’m working towards something! I’m making something of myself!”
I’ve seen a lot of people feel the need to be very defensive of their lives and choices after graduating. I hope to never become that way. Instead of seeing the loss of my “student” role as a bad, bottom-dropping-out sort of thing, I see it as a NEW REALM OF FREEDOM.
I no longer have the lure of the “A” grade making me feel like I have to reach it to be worth something. I no longer feel “below” professors and other adults. For the first time, I really feel like an ADULT. I actually feel like I’m a pretty awesome person with a decent array of talents and enough ambition/sense of adventure to go and do the wonderful things that I want to do.
I recognize that this change wasn’t just because I graduated. This whole year has been one long, painful, exhilarating growth process. So bittersweet, but so necessary.
But as I’m about to fling myself full-force into the world, I feel such joy and excitement. I’m breaking free from cages, shedding roles… and apparently thinking about EVERYTHING AS METAPHORS ALL THE TIME.
And song lyrics. I think about things in terms of song lyrics all the time, too.
Right now, I feel like the most applicable lyrics are the ones that begin one of my favorite albums, The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus by Spirit:
“You have the world at your fingertips… no one can make it better than you. You have the world at your fingertips. See what you’ve done to the rain and the sun; so many changes have all just begun to reap. And though you’re asleep… wake up!”