It's not who we are that holds us back, it's who we think we're not and who we try to be...when we're not.
In my high school, one of the most popular cliques was a group of ten or so preppy, sporty, attractive girls who splatter-painted white Juicy Couture jumpsuits that said "Seniors '08" in their senior year and wore them around school every other Friday.
They were dubbed The Jumps at graduation. When I heard this I almost died with laughter and then practically dissolved into tears.
"Oh no," I thought, "I had witnessed a stereotypical high school experience; With clique names and everything. Oh the shame."
I was under the impression that traditions like this would be replaced in college by "real" groups of friends who enjoyed each other's company and bonded in healthy friendship and happiness forever and ever.
My first week at College was a whirlwind of sleepless "New Student Week" excitement. I made good friends with my peer advisor, a girl named Michelle.
I was drawn to her awesome theatrical resume, and since theatre was my major, I decided to interview her about it.
Apparently, she was the most accomplished sophomore in the theatre program, having worked on thirteen theatrical productions in her freshman year on the production and management end of things.
I stared wide-eyed as she explained her achievements and all the opportunities she had been exposed to and taken advantage of in the theatre culture on campus. She had a ton of hilarious and cool friends.
She got great grades. She knew what classes to take. I had gone to College to be her. She was my college role model, the big sister I never had.
I decided right then and there, the first day of New Student Week, to become Michelle as soon as humanly possible.
I developed a plan. I would study her brilliance with precision and subtle persistence, never letting on that my desire was to become just like her; instead I would flatter her enough and be "cool" enough that she would think I was the logical choice for a mentee/apprentice.
One night, Michelle introduced me to her friend Jim who was producing a show with a student theatre group that I wanted to join.
We talked about the show he was producing and how interested I was in participating. Michelle bragged about me, "This girl is the next big thing; she's awesome."
Later that night, I received an e-mail from Jim asking me to assistant produce the show.
I had six heart attacks and screamed and woke my roommate. I couldn't believe it! Me? Getting to assistant produce as a freshman in my first few weeks of school?
I could hardly breathe. Things were starting for me. I'd make connections in the student theatre network and do more productions and then I'd be on my way to being just like Michelle. I patted myself on the back.
I was on a cloud for another couple of days until one night I received a text from Michelle: "What r u up 2 tonite?"
My heart skipped. Could she actually be asking me to hang out with her? Impossible. She had older friends. They wouldn't actually want to hang out with me.
"Come over 2 my apartment at 10."
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. I knew that Michelle was going to be my mentor but I couldn't imagine that she was going to be my friend, too. I was going to be in her group of friends!
She was my "in" to social success, as well as academic success. I couldn't believe my good fortune. I felt like I'd pulled in the big fish and now it was taking me for a joy ride around the water.
I spent about thirty minutes choosing what to wear. I tried to look casual and put-together at the same time. I left twenty minutes early so I wouldn't get lost. I rehearsed a few things to say and a few jokes.
I smiled in my pocket mirror. I did breathing exercises to calm my heart. I felt three years younger than I actually was, so unprepared and unqualified.
I knocked on the apartment door and they let me in excitedly. There were mixers all over the counter and one of Michelle's friends held two bottles of liquor in each hand.
"Oh my God, she's here, our little freshman!" he said.
"Welcome to Wednesdays," Michelle laughed.
I walked in, smiling and tentative. I felt naked. All six of them were staring at me...no, thet were probing. Sometimes you can just feel when you are being judged.
But I kept my composure and laughed along with them as they told jokes and gossiped about everyone they knew, about who said what stupid thing and who did what unbelievable thing.
They asked what drink I would like and read me the list of mixers. I didn't plan on drinking but I asked for an appletini because it was the first thing that came to mind. I held it all night.
Finally, when they were drunk and I thought they wouldn't notice, I went to the bathroom and dumped out my drink in the sink.
But they caught me and when I returned they said, "Oh, the old dump-it-in-the-sink trick. Did you guys see that?"
They kept asking me, drunkenly, "So who are you, Hannah? Give us the dish. We want to hear all your dirty secrets."
I'd try to change the subject, not because I had dirty secrets, but because I was worried that if we got into it, they'd see how really innocent I was and I'd feel even more naked than I already felt.
But what caught my attention most was their continual mention of the word "Wednesdays." It became more than just a day of the week when they talked about it. It was like a name.
I asked them what "Wednesdays" were. Michelle laughed and looked at Jim and said, "You explain."
Jim told me that last year they had all started drinking together on Wednesdays. Once everybody sort of knew about it, they started calling themselves Wednesdays.
He told me they were trying to find a new member, so they wanted me to come tonight. Then another guy leaned forward and said, "This is an audition."
They laughed it off like they'd been joking, but even with all that popcorn-fluff I could feel that kernel of truth at the bottom of the bowl.
I kept smiling, but said that I should probably leave.
I lay in my bed that night trying to think what they reminded me of. I was stumped. I couldn't figure out what had gone so wrong.
I tried to put together the pieces: they were judgmental, gossiping, humorous but rude, conceited and exclusive. They had a name....
It hit me then exactly who they were; they were The Jumps.
And my heart sank as I realized what I had done. I had set myself up for this to happen. I thought being "cool" was what I wanted. But this was not what I wanted.
I'd thought college would be nothing like high school. But then I realized we bring who we are to college...or anywhere else we go.
What we put in us, stays with us. If we are not careful, we can absorb negative social traits in our desire to belong.
I no longer desired for Michelle to be my mentor, my connection to the in crowd or even my friend. I wish she hadn't invited me to that night.
Michelle never invited me again. She spoke to me cordially on occasion, but I mostly tried to avoid her.
She set up a lunch date to check on me out of obligation and then cancelled the day of the lunch. I was relieved.
I have a new group of friends now. I don't feel naked in front of them. I don't have to drink an appletini, pretend to be cool or gossip about everyone I know.
They are not perfect, but being with them feels like sticking my hand into fresh soil. It feels tangible, authentic, and organic. I can be me. It feels like how I thought college would feel. It feels like home.
[Names have been changed...]
Another life lesson for us all...
I am writing a book on things not to say and things not to do,
by stupid things I said and did, yesterday.
At one time or another, I have been everyone in this story...
Have a great day!