My younger sister Erin is incredibly useful to have around. For me, a person who floats through life on anchorless and volatile clouds of idealism, Erin’s practical and affable nature effectively serves to tie me down to reality.
Erin and I are photo negatives of one another. She plays on state-champion soccer teams; I play volleyball like a drunken baby. She loves the Hallmark channel; I despise stories that don’t end with at least two main characters dead or horribly maimed. She is methodical, practical and aware; once, I lost my glasses for five days. In my purse. (Now, I only use coat pockets. Much safer.)
Where are the car keys? Erin knows. What is the date of my best friend’s wedding, and when is the RSVP due? Erin knows that too. What is Calvin College’s most recent post-graduate employment rate and how does the president’s cabinet hope to continue to improve the current financial situation? Ask Erin. She knows. Honestly, they should probably hire her to the admissions office right now.
Erin is currently a senior in high school and going through the process of choosing a college. Obviously, this process has involved lots of program comparison and research and thoughtful questions and emails and calculations and pie charts. Let me tell you something about Erin. She actually PERUSES those pamphlets they send in the mail. SHE PERUSES THEM, PEOPLE! If you’ve long been wondering why colleges continue to spend buckets of money on an outdated mode of advertisement, the reason has two thumbs and is my sister.
My college decision process was absolutely nothing like this. There were no pie charts. I collected pamphlets, sure. Then I sat in my living room and sorted them into piles based on relative aesthetic value.
Ha, nice try Gordon College. I see your autumn clock tower photograph and I raise you a 3-D chalkboard font ripped straight offa the front page of Pinterest.
Ew, LSU. Your scholarships are great and all, but I’m sorry, purple is not really my color.
HOLY CRAP. THE GUY ON THE COVER OF THE HOPE COLLEGE PAMPHLET LOOKS LIKE SCIENTISTS COMBINED JAMES DEAN WITH PETER PETRELLI FROM HEROES. If I go there, we’ll definitely get married.
Aesthetic value was a big pull throughout my college search. That, and name-brand-y-ness. I applied to no less than five Ivy Leagues, determined to pull a Jay Gatsby and wipe the dirt of my crummy little town off my superior brow, to become the person that I was not yet on the outside but had always been destined to be on the inside, as long as I stayed away from swimming pools and girls named Daisy.
Arching above my search for a beautiful, mystical place that would transform me from a country bumpkin to a worldly intellectual was a strong belief in destiny. When I found the right college, I would know. I would step foot on that hallowed ground and the wind would suddenly pick up. The sun would come out from behind the trees. Purple, green, and orange leaves would blow against my face and whistle through my hair and I would hear Grandmother Willow’s faint voice singing that if I listened with my heart, I would understand. Anyone who has watched Harry Potter knows that the wizard doesn’t choose the wand. The wand chooses the wizard. And this is obviously the same for colleges.
But Grandmother Willow betrayed me, that heartless old bag of bark. My destiny failed to make itself plain. When I visited Hope, I didn’t like crossing from street to street in a jumble of mismatched buildings that looked nothing like Hogwarts. When I visited Calvin, my host students told me a bunch of weird lies, including the fake tradition of walking across the Beltline Bridge without touching any of the blue squares if you ever wanted to find a husband. Dordt was too close to home. Going to Canada was too much hassle. And I failed to get into a single Ivy League.
I returned home, not dejected, but in utter despair. I vividly recall College Decision Month, better known to me as Apocalypse Imminent. Two nights before my college decision was due, I remember wailing on the phone to a friend, who advised me to flip a coin and see how I felt when the coin decided my fate. I tried, but every time the coin landed, it showed a different outcome, and every outcome made me want to rip my heart out so I didn’t have to feel anymore. (I take myself very seriously.)
It was around this time that my mother said something incredibly wise.
“You’re not going to screw up your life, Lauren.”
OH YEAH??!? IS THAT A CHALLENGE?!?!?!
But, as it turns out, I think she was right. I don’t recommend my college decision management strategies, but I don’t know if they were wrong. Erin’s methodical, careful, conscientious approach to her future may be less stress-inducing, but she’s ending up at a school that will teach her things. And I did too.
I picked my school because it was far away, because it had a pretty campus, because I thought the mascot was cool, because I paid no attention to finances, and because I had to pick something. But I loved it. And I learned stuff. And I’m quite different than I was five years ago because of Calvin College.
For example, I now realize that money exists.
As I look forward to career decisions, I’m experiencing some of that same anxiety, the feeling that what I choose now will forever alter my destiny, and if I choose wrong, I will become grossly misshapen by regret. I carry around others’ advice like saddlebags; I can be weighed down by others’ expectations as easily as my own.
But, if I can offer some advice to my seventeen-year-old self, and to my eighteen-year-old sister, and to other high school seniors, and to those who are in the same place as me now, I’d say that probably it’s okay if you just pick something to do, if you get to know yourself and find something that you feel okay about within the bounds of God’s call for you. Because the road to life isn’t the same as the straight and narrow path to salvation. That’s more about how you act and who you are. Choosing a college or a job is different. There isn’t a right choice and a wrong choice. There could be a righter one and a wronger one, but you’re probably not going to screw up your life. Not like this. There are plenty of opportunities to screw things up, and plenty of opportunities to learn from that, and plenty of opportunities to fix things again.
You might lose your glasses and walk around blindly for a few days, or say something to someone that you regret, or give yourself a black eye in volleyball, but we all have people in our lives like my little sister, people who are there with a backup pair of glasses, a listening ear, and or a cold bag of peas. We can do this because we aren’t alone. No matter what we do, we aren’t alone.
And where we go probably matters less than what we do when we go there and how we talk and how those things line up with one another. Probably. I mean, at this point, I’m only twenty-two, and I still sometimes make decisions based on the pretty picture on the front of the pamphlet. My mother repeatedly tells me that I’m not going to screw up my life, and I haven’t yet, but I’ve learned that choices do matter and that nobody else can make them for you, not if they’re going to mean anything.
And if I need to be repeatedly told, I’m probably not the only one. I mean, I went to college. You’d think I’d have learned by now.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.