I’ve always had a hard time accepting the idea that “the only constant thing in life is change.” However, as a recent college graduate in my twenties, I think it’s finally stuck. I’ve also realized that with each different transition in life—whether it’s a high school or college graduation, a job opportunity, an expanding family, or even just a new friend—we are given a unique chance to grow into the individual we wish to become.
But transition can be, and usually is, really uncomfortable. Despite the smiles or expressions of excitement about the “next chapter ahead,” there can be a lot of unknown, uncertainty, and doubt.
I vividly remember starting college in the fall of 2009 and thinking to myself: “What if I made the wrong decision? What if I can’t make honest and lasting friendships? What if I’m not meant to be here? … Worst case scenario: I’ll just participate enough to get by or go through the motions until this part of my life is over.”
Looking back, sure, “getting by” would have been the easier route. However, choosing not to participate in my new community would have been a set-up for disappointment, for surface-level relationships, and in turn, for limited personal growth.
Life-giving relationships and healthy community require constant effort, from everyone involved, not just some people. And achieving these things during seasons of change often means not going the easier route. If growth and progress were an easy task, our world would be a different place, perhaps even utopian. But reality suggests the contrary, and for good reason. Despite the many times I have considered just “getting by,” I have also witnessed the unimaginable joy felt in choosing to share life—the good, the bad, and the difficult—with others. Coffee dates. Singing guilty pleasure pop songs together. Cross-country road trips. Reaching out to a friend when I’m not feeling my best. Sitting with and holding the hands of others when they’re not feeling their best.
Honest community and friendships play such a vital role in our well-being and mental health. We were meant to live life with one another. To know and be known. To hear and be heard. To love and be loved. But sometimes it can seem impossible to believe in and experience such beautiful companionship in these scary new stages of our life. Various challenges get in our way: fears, insecurities, depression, anxiety … We all have our own obstacles. But it’s a myth that we should be able to overcome them on our own.
One of my own obstacles is my stutter. My speech impediment has been, and perhaps always will be, a personal struggle. It’s caused me a tremendous amount of anxiety as I’ve grown up, and even though I’ve learned many ways to effectively speak around it, this is still a factor in my fear of transition and change. If I’m being truly honest, there have been numerous times I have even used my stutter as an excuse to opt out of things. I convinced myself that this was an obstacle I was not meant to overcome. But as I began my freshman year in college, I recognized that hiding my stutter wasn’t nearly as important as learning how to simply be honest with others about it. And when I stopped trying to rid myself of my stutter, it actually freed me from it, in a way. It helped me find my voice in community and my worth in the context of others. While it wasn’t easy, transitioning into college became an experience defined by the loving community I was able to engage in, rather than my stutter or the other obstacles in my life.
As I consider the pivotal role of healthy community in our everyday lives, as well as the overwhelming reality of living in a constantly changing world, it would seem we are repeatedly asked to do something rather intimidating. We are encouraged, time and time again, to be visible and vulnerable with others, with the hope of being a part of something bigger than ourselves. However, I truly believe we can build something beautiful, if we do it together.
Don’t hide. Don’t “get by.” Don’t walk through change alone or opt out of community. You were meant to share life with the world, and as you do so, the world will be better for it.
—Joe Ward, TWLOHA Summer 2013 Intern