A lesson about caring…

“And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

There was a boy who said he cared. There were lots of boys who said they cared about lots of girls. There are lots of people who say they care about lots of other people. But what does that mean exactly? Because sometimes people who say they care the most don’t make you feel better when you need them to.

I have learned a lesson about caring lately. People think that asking if someone is ok when they’re upset is caring. And that’s a great way to show you care! But it’s not the most important, and sometimes that’s just not what we need. And a lot of the time we don’t even mean it when we are the ones asking.

Actions speak louder than words.

We have all hit rock bottom at some point in our lives. We can all remember a time when we just didn’t know how we would possibly go on. I remember in hard times thinking all I wanted was for someone to care, for someone to understand.

But when someone told me they cared and they understood, it didn’t make me feel better. I just would get frustrated because I thought no one could possibly understand exactly what I was feeling and thinking. And I already knew people cared about me, but that didn’t change how I thought and felt right then.

That is when I realized I didn’t need someone to wallow and whine with me, I didn’t need someone to agree with me. I needed someone to pull me up, someone who would take my hand and make me do the things I didn’t want to do, because sometimes the things you least want to do are the only things that can make it better.

That’s what real caring is. It’s not just being there for someone else, it’s living for someone else. There’s a big difference between living and being there.

Being there means showing up at their house with ice cream on a bad day. It means holding their hand or hugging them while they cry.

But the truest kind of love, real caring, is putting someone before yourself. Really caring means showing up with ice cream on that bad day without even having to know what made it so bad. Really caring means being the shoulder to cry on even when you don’t know why they are crying. Really caring means encouraging others to do what makes them happy, even if it doesn’t involve you.

I had a friend who cried at prom. The music was perfect, she had no boys to worry about, and she looked gorgeous, but something else was wrong. So I hugged her while she cried and then asked what was wrong. She said “I can’t talk about it tonight.” I said “are you sure?” At first I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t tell me. But then I realized it wasn’t about me, so I said “ok. Let’s dance.” She didn’t want to at all and insisted on staying in her chair and thinking. But after a little while I walked back over to her and said “get out of your head. Stop thinking. Live here in this moment. There is something good in every day. This is our good thing.” Soon enough I was able to pull her onto the dance floor.

Really caring is not giving up. And that doesn’t mean insisting that someone tell you why they are upset even when they say they don’t want to talk about it. It’s not forcing someone to share their darkest secrets. Not giving up means when they chose to sit it out, you make them dance.

So think before you say “I did it because I care.” There’s a difference between caring and personal satisfaction. Don’t do something “because you care” just to make yourself feel better.

I think a lot of the time we take pride in being other people’s confidants. When people relate to us and share a secret or a wish, we feel needed. And the same thing goes for problems. When someone tells you why they are upset, you feel special and proud that someone trusts you.

But we need to learn to listen with the intent to understand, not to respond.

Real caring is not about you. Real caring is selfless. Caring is a choice. And when a person does trust you with a problem, they trust you to help them make it better. And if you are lucky enough to have someone who cares about you like this, no questions asked, If you have someone that will pull you up of the floor and out of your funk, take them up on it.  Get up and get out of your head and find one good thing in every day. Because you’re the only one who can open yourself up to change.

Real caring isn’t just understanding someone’s problem but helping them to change it, whether it’s for yourself or someone else.

So the lesson I have learned about caring? When life knocks you on the floor, the real friends don’t just sit down with you and mope. The people who really care are the ones who not only pull you up and show you how to stand, but, better yet, the ones who remind you how to dance. Because even though it’s nice to have someone who understands, it’s even better to have someone that doesn’t have to.

Apparently there’s a problem with smart choices…

“I’m proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall.”
“Really? You’re way too smart for that.”

“Don’t waste your time on that.”

Yes, that is a conversation I have had multiple times. This is the culture we are raised in and this generation seems to think that the only way you are successful is by leaving home right at 18, traveling halfway across the country, and going to a full 4 year university. And there is nothing wrong with that at all! If that’s right for you, good for you! I mean it sounded pretty great to me too.

But then I didn’t get the money I needed to make that four year college affordable. I was going to spend my last summer at home working my butt off just to help my parents cover the crazy tuition. And for what? To go to a school I would graduate from with a cumulative debt of $60,000-80,000 to pay off fresh out of college? And really that is understandable for some people if that’s really where you feel you need to be. But for me, that didn’t seem like the way I wanted to start my life.

My parents mentioned staying home for a year and getting my GE done at a college nearby but I was hesitant because at school, community college was kind of a joke. Many students teased about it and thought of it as the suggestion that counselors made when your transcript wasn’t up to par for the schools you actually wanted to apply to. And everyone was going away and I didn’t want to be left behind. But let me rephrase my question: Should I go off to a school I would graduate from with $60,000-80,000 of student loans to pay off fresh out of college, just because I felt pressure from my school and peers?

And let me say something, not to brag but to make my point. I had above a 4.0 GPA, I was in the top ten percent of my class, was a runner up for valedictorian, and got into the schools of my choice. But that doesn’t mean that I wanted to launch myself straight into more hard-core academics at such a high cost, both monetarily and emotionally.

We have to stop telling our students that leaving is the only option. Stop putting everyone in the same category. The college system has become more and more competitive. It’s all about who can get in where. Acceptance letters are posted at schools and all over Facebook. And it’s great to be proud of your accomplishments! I love to celebrate my friends’ successes with them. But to me college is a personal achievement.

And personally, being able to do everything I want to do instead of forcing myself straight into the most academic, competitive program in the country after working my butt off for four years, is more of an accomplishment than anything else. And I shouldn’t feel shame for that. I shouldn’t feel the need to have to explain to my friends and family why a “gifted student” like me isn’t leaving for school right away.

Our culture is so hypocritical. We are supposed to be the educated, accepting generation that is open to change and progress, yet we continue to fall into certain pressures of society. Want to be accepting? Stop using acceptance to excuse and allow stupid behavior and try to instead respect intelligent decisions, even if they differ from popular culture. I want to be a well-rounded, happy person. I want to be successful in my eyes, not just the eyes of others. We all deserve that. And that is why we have to stop telling people that one type of education is better than the other. Someone once told me that comparing colleges was like comparing artists. How can you compare the Beatles to Mozart? Both extremely talented and successful, but different. Different doesn’t mean unequal.

So my mom had a friend who worked at the local community college and I agreed to go check it out. The counselor there told me that with my AP credits, I would only need about 3 semesters to finish my GE. So with a year there and a few summer classes, I could transfer to the private four-year university of my choice as a junior, when I’m really only of sophomore age, saving me about $65,000 and getting me out of college a year earlier. Still think I’m “too smart” for community college?

Also, with some of the money I save, I can take dance classes, travel to visit friends, and, for a refreshing change, have time to do the things I want to do, not just things I have to do: get a job I love, read a book, play piano, write a story. Not to mention the fact that I get to stay home with my family and friends another year, which in this teenage culture is also somewhat frowned upon. But it’s a plus in my mind.

And the best part of all–Want to know what my diploma will say when I graduate? The name of my four-year university, just like anyone else. Except mine will cost a lot less in both money and stress.

So, I am proud to announce that I will be attending community college in the fall. No, my attendance doesn’t mean I’m not smart. I got into multiple well-known, four-year universities of my choice. My decision to stay at home another year doesn’t mean I’m immature. It mean I am mature enough to make decisions for my future, not just for the instantaneous excitement. It means I’m happy, I love my hometown, and I have good memories here. It means that I want to save money and start my life in less debt. And I’m not going to miss out on the “college experience.” I’m going to have a great one, and just because it’s different from someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s inferior.

So I’m not “too smart “for my choice. I’m smart BECAUSE of my choice.

Want to know what happens? Check in with me in 10 years. I plan on being be a successful, well-rounded, happy individual.

*Update, for anyone who was wondering (12/1/16): I am on track to transfer to the university of my choice in the Fall of 2017 with my GE completed. I have also played the lead in two musical theater productions, traveled to San Diego, Portland, and Nashville to visit friends, and I have a job at the book store of my choice, making money and building a perfect resume for an English Major. I wouldn’t have traded my choice for anything.