I remember, at age eighteen, the first time I stepped foot on what would become my home for the next four years of my life.
It wasn’t a grand moment. I opened the door of our Honda Pilot with the scratch marks on the driver’s side and stuck my boot into muddy slush. The air was quiet and cold. My eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the stark white of the snow and the bright blue sky. The town was still. Driving up the hill I hadn’t seen a soul, just a lonely car idling in the gas station parking lot. This miniature city was in such contrast to the bustling, suburban town of 145,000 people that I called home. I felt strange and out of place.
This was the big decision. The future. The choice I was supposed to make that would change everything, alter the course of my life, mold me into the person I would become.
And it wasn’t all that impressive.
There were no in-my-head fireworks, like people say there will be. I didn’t walk up to the Admissions Office with my heart skipping a beat. I didn’t have this sudden bubbly feeling in my stomach. There was no little voice in my head saying, This is it. This is where you’re meant to be.
See, that’s the lie you are told. That when you step foot on the college campus, you will instantly know. There will be this inkling, this fuzzy, warm sensation rising from your toes to your forehead. And then, suddenly, the world will make sense, the sun will peek through the clouds, and you will, without a doubt, realize that this is where you’re meant to be.
It was nothing like that.
In reality, my boots crunched gravel, snow, and dead leaves. My breathing was labored and harsh in my chest. The campus was deserted for mid-term break and the branches looked frozen in place.
But as I walked, I imagined myself sitting in the second floor, back corner couch of the library. I saw myself making a chicken salad in the cafeteria. I brushed my foot over the iced-over dirt at the softball field and pictured my teammates laughing around me.
There wasn’t this epiphany. In fact, I remember feeling distracted. I had broken up with my boyfriend just a few weeks previous, and we were in a state of indecision. I was trying not to picture myself 400 miles away, but also secretly enticed by the idea. My mind was elsewhere.
Months later, I still hadn’t made a decision. I returned to the campus in a warmer month, more committed to the idea that yes, this was a possibility, this could be the place where I’d end up. I still didn’t know for sure. There were numbers and scholarships and loans and fears rolling around in my mind. And I hadn’t yet experienced that ‘this is home’ feeling.
But that’s the funny thing. You don’t just have this feeling. It’s created. Created by experiences. Created by deciding on a school and embracing it. Created by challenges and excitements and memories and friends.
I wasn’t sure if I was making the right decision when I chose a small college in Iowa. I didn’t have those jitters, those butterflies, that sensation. But I decided anyways. And that school became the right decision. I made memories. I made mistakes. I succeeded. I failed. I learned. And this place became my home.
I was never stuck. There was always a way out, always another school, another choice, if this hadn’t been the right one. That’s the good part, too. You’re never making a decision that you have to carry with you for the rest of your life. There’s always room for change.
But the school I chose became my school. It became the place where I found myself, where I embraced the quiet, homey feel of small-town life. Where I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and learned that these decisions are the most terrifying, but most beautiful moments in our lives. The decisions that will bring us to where we’re supposed to, whether they start with the wrong choice, or indecision that becomes a wonderful future. Whether they start with butterflies or boots in the slush.