I remember making a Pinterest board of just how I wanted my graduation pictures to go. I knew I wanted to do three looks, and I knew exactly who would inspire them. Still then, I was a bit in panic mode. I was less than two months away from my December graduation and being done with undergrad. I was drowning. Consumed with stress, and drench in worry. I didn’t know what my life would look like after those two months. I tried to slow them down. To savor every moment, I had left in college. Now, a part of me thinks I chose three outfits just to make the shoot last longer. Because if I knew once the shoot was over, I’d have to check it off my list. And what do you do when your list is completely finished? You make another one.
I made a list right before I went to London, the summer before my senior year. A list of grad schools I’d start applying to when I got back. I tucked them away and didn’t think about them. It was like when the wheels of the plane hit the ground, my list popped right back in action.
I knew I had no clue of what I wanted to do next, so grad school seemed to be the natural next step. So, I started the applications, set aside money for fees, and manuscript prints (no, App State did not have free printing). I gave myself deadlines for each application, and each story that needed to be written. Everything had to be done by the end of October. I was not going to miss the deadlines; I was going to have time to review, then review again.
Then it all became too much. Life started kicking me at every angle and I didn’t have enough hands to fight back. So, I made the executive decision to take the next year off and focus on graduating December. I had been in college since I was sixteen years old and I was worn out.
It took a lot for me to admit that I was tired and needed a break. At nineteen, I felt like I had to prove that I was capable of accomplishing great things. I guess graduating with my second degree wasn’t enough. I needed more.
As a Black woman, I had always been told I needed to be great. To work twice as hard. And to never let the world see me struggle and to remain strong. I stuck to that and put my poker face on.
Through all the chaos I couldn’t see that what I really needed more of— was myself.
I knew I wanted to write. To have my name in bylines, and in rooms I’d never been in. But I also knew I lacked the network, and I lacked the passion.
Dreams are easily comparable to romantic love. Even in our most fiery relationships we sometimes lose passion, we lose sight of our why. Not only did I lose sight of my dreams trying to check off boxes on lists with little substance, I lost sight of myself.
I promised myself to rest. That I wouldn’t immediately start looking for jobs upon graduating. I acknowledged that I needed time to heal, to replenish everything that I’d let run out. I said that 2020 was going to be one of discovery and exploration. That I was going to try my hand at everything. I wasn’t going to pass up on opportunities. I was going to be the yes man for once because I deserved it.
Right as I found myself ready to hop back on the horse—the world had other plans. Covid-19 decided to impose on everybody’s function, until we no longer knew how.
America is a country that is constantly moving, constantly looking for its next beat. So, naturally people are anxious sitting around waiting for word that they can resume their routines.
I told myself to shift my mindset, to not let the things that have been taken away consume me and find my loophole. I searched and I searched, trying my hand at things I never knew existed. Until the end of the year came at me as quick as a freight train.
It had been the same month as the last year that I was preparing for my next step. Commemorating the accomplishment of that chapter. Smiling, laughing, racing off to my next event.
Life is so much different now. Grace is mandatory for the proceeding.
I took a moment to sit in my feelings and allow myself to acknowledge that this isn’t exactly the year that I had in mind. That I didn’t get to see the different sights I would have liked or meet new folks as I begin my new life.
So, no, I’m not in the space where I thought I’d be a year after graduating college, but who ever really is. I did my best with the cards I was presented this year, and I am going to finish out the year strong.
No, I didn’t check off everything that I set out to accomplish this year, but I added things I hadn’t even thought of.
In growing pains, you can never really pinpoint which part is growing, you just know that something is. This year has been one of which no one could ever explain. And although we will never know the reason, that won’t stop us from asking.
So instead of looking for answers, I encourage you to look for the change within yourself that has happened in the last year and speak kindly to yourself.
We are not the list we made a year ago.
Alexis Lawson is a poet, storyteller, and author of the poetry collection The Beauty in my Bare Bones (2019). She specializes in exploring themes of self-love, black womanhood, reflection through the black eye, and love and connections through fiction and poetry. When she’s not writing, you can find her teaching elementary school students creative writing.