December 3, 2016

On being social

What socialization during college years means to me.

On being social

College is an interesting time in life. Currently being in my third year in higher education, I have had plenty of time to reflect and ponder the effects of college. Everyone told me college would change me, that through it I would become a different person than who I was in K-12. I believed them, but I should have taken their words more strongly. I changed alright. I just did not expect all this.

Coming from a homeschool background, I have always excelled in my classes, even in harder subjects like biology. Although my study skills from homeschool to college adapted, I already possessed strong study skills, so they did not have to be (re)developed from scratch. Because of my background, abilities, and grades (we cannot forget those), a lot of people, if not everybody I have met in college, have classified me as smart and talented. While this is true and something I expected would happen, it is not a personal change college influenced.

No, college brought about a different change — a change in how I view socialization. A change in social habits, ideas, language, and actions. A change in my interaction with adults (instructors and staff) and adults (peers). A change I expected but did not realize would be so profound.

My homeschool experience, like all homeschool, was unique. We had our own methods, timetables, disciplines, and curriculum. By state law we were required to complete 180 days of school — even when the public school system had 160 days that one year. As far as I am aware, that was it. Everything else was up to us, including social outings.

Somehow, at least from my perspective (which could be very wrong, mind you) as part of my homeschool life, socialization with kids and teens was lost, especially when I reached middle and high school. I stayed home all day and did my work. I didn’t go to meetings, events, and outings organized by other homeschool families in the area. I spent my day, sometimes until 8 PM, doing my school. My focus — and goal— was learning. Even if we went on a trip, it was a learning experience. Not that I hated this methodology. I love to learn; it is how I am the student I am today. But as I reached high school and a teenager, that social aspect became increasingly important.

My life consisted of going to church, the store, dentist, optometrist, studying, and playing in my yard with the dog. At church, I felt like an outsider, present but not involved, talked to but not included. Even after attending the same church for a year, I felt like a perpetual guest. I found myself fitting in with the adults and the leaders more than teens close to my age. Why exactly, I do not know. It was likely a combination of lack of a self-confidence, fear of rejection, lack of involvement and participation in church events, and the fact we did not stay around long after church. On Wednesday night, I often left before youth group was over. And just when I thought I started to actually belong, we would change churches for reasons unknown to me. Apparently, a social life was a non-priority in my life.

I eventually found my way to the Web, in particular this one online community, which I am still an active member almost 6 years later. I began to interact with people over forum posts, chats, and private messages. It helped tide me over and fill this lack of people in my life of studying, but it only went so far. A blog post I wrote during my time there, #NoSocialLife, is to date one of my more personal writings, detailing unexpressed emotions and unsatisfied needs in my life, as well as a reflection of the good things that had happened in that time and a positive outlook for the future. Except all mentions of these online people and conversations was met with resistance and deemed illegitimate. It was not “real.” “Those people” did not care about me. It was all fake. My focus was school. All else did not matter. Yet there was no solution offered to remedy this empty part in my life.

Then started college.

College was a place nobody knew me. Nobody knew my past, my current status, nothing. It was a clean slate. I could become whoever I wanted to be. I could discover who I, Caleb, was. I could find my values, my qualities, my defining traits, my passions, skills, abilities, humor, and everything else. All on my own. It was free and liberating. I took advantage of every moment I had. Some things from homeschool remained. With no driver’s license or car, I still had to get a ride to and from college. I did not stay before or after classes. I was not on social media much. I literally only existed to my classmates during class time. Still, with no expectations of who I was, I became a new person, or at least started to become one. I am still becoming a new person. But that is when it all started.

Fast forward to the present, the now. I am a different person than I was 3 years ago, in every single regard. Yet there is one thing that has been relativity stable: socialization, or the lack thereof.

At the time of this writing, I am halfway though my second semester of college life, year 3. Spring break ended not too long ago. I now have a driver’s license and have some degree of driving freedom. I can go to college before classes and stay afterward. I can go to lunch with people I have met or to theatre club practices. I am free to be myself at college. I am continuing to discover and refine myself to be a gentleman, a caring, considerate, honorable, respectable, and kind young man. From being myself, I have had the opportunity to meet and hang out with some amazing people, amazing in their character, knowledge, abilities, and talents. I have even become friends with a model and TV/movie/theater actors! It has truly been quite the experience. I enjoy being around them all. They bring great joy to my life. They are fun to talk to and be around. We are all diverse in our interests, goals, talents, and perspectives. We are individually and collectively unique. I even have a small reputation among a few people as an amazing person.

Yet I am sitting at my desk in my room, typing this blog post, feeling lonely. Why? I mean, after the glowing description of this semester, why am I sitting here upset and discouraged?

Because nothing has changed.

Despite now being more connected to people thanks to social media, my phone, and the ability to drive, in regards to my social life, nothing has changed. Yes, I can stay after class — until I get text messages or calls stating I must come home right now. Yes, I can go to lunch with them — if I am not studying or working at my job at the college. Yes, I can interact with and be around some amazing people, but, except to a select few people, I do not exist outside college. Even with church I am expected to not stay long after service. The common theme behind each of these scenarios being “I need to focus on my schoolwork.”

Focus on my schoolwork. Just as I have done since I started homeschool. Just as I have done in college for three and a half years now. Just as I do for hours every day. “School is your priority. It is your job. Do not worry about anything else. Focus on your education.”

Except I am tired of focusing.

There is so much more to life than education. I can have all the education I want, but it will never fill the void of socialization. I have my priorities, and yes, college is my primary focus right now, but it cannot be my only focus. I need more. I can be a well-rounded human being in knowledge, but without social skills or even the opportunity to socialize, I will not be whole.

The thing is, through college, I have learned that I am a people person. I am an extrovert. I have people skills. I can make them laugh, cheer them up, encourage, uplift, and inspire. So many people last semester alone remarked in exclamation how happy I am seemingly all the time. For example, I stood up in front of a class of 400 freshman students one Thursday to announce a performance of the theatre club. Afterward, I had many people tell me I presented very well and handled the immature commotion expertly, saying I “have people skills.” It is unreal how many people consider me to be an awesome or “favorite” person. I know they are not saying this to trick me. Even instructors tell me these things. In the last few weeks, almost 30 people, many of whom do not know the other, have praised me for various things all last semester. I do not say all this to praise myself or boast, not at all! I am merely repeating what I have been told.

The thing is, I love being me. I love being able to entertain. A personal goal, if it can be achieved that day, is to make at least one person laugh. I am a strong proponent of laughter. Laughter makes a heart merry and causes a troubled mind to momentarily forget all woes. I love being able to tell someone, in complete honesty, that all will be alright. I love being able to care about someone, make sure they are alright and everything is going well. I had the opportunity to sit at a table with one of my theatre club partners and keep her company while she ate some food and tried to deal with a migraine. Just something as little as that… it is moments like that right there that impact people the most. It was a privilege for me to do that and be there for her, not because it was on some goals list (it was not), nor because I like her in a romantic manner (I do not), nor because I had some other, secondary, motive (I did not). It was a privilege because I was being me. I was being the person God made me. It was a privilege to be a gentleman, a caring friend, a source of encouragement. I love being me.

I was going down a Twitter rabbit hole one day last semester when I ended up on the account to a girl at college. Earlier that week, I ended up on two people’s snapchats. No big deal. This girl was not there that day but apparently saw the videos and tweeted about it, saying the videos of me made her day.

That hit me. Someone I barely know had the thought to tweet about me and how, through short little videos, I made her day. That hit me because that is why I do what I do. I am who I am for a reason. If I can impact someone’s life through videos, then how much more can I be a witness for God in person? How much more can I live my life in a holy and upright manner and positively influence those around me?

I have learned many things in college this semester. One of those lessons is to always be yourself. People do not say to me what they do “just because.” God has granted me favor in this area of my life. It is as if He is saying “Be confident in yourself. You are special in your own way. I am with you in everything. Just be yourself, be who I created you to be, and know if you can excel in this, you can succeed in all else. That void will be filled, I am your provider. Just stay in Me and seek Me, and I will supply.”

This is why socialization is so important to me. I am not perfect, I know I need to work on some of my social skills. I have a long way to go in my journey as a gentleman, and it will continue on until I die. Yet I feel I am limited, restricted, and prohibited from being me, from acting in the role I have been cast, from filling this void that has been present for years, all in the name of “focusing on school” and not worrying about anything else.

Except there is more to life than studying.