Column: Dealing with failure when Cal State Fullerton wasn’t your first choice college

As an overachieving (and undoubtedly pretentious) freshman heading to college in 2016, I always prided myself in knowing what I wanted — and Cal State Fullerton wasn’t it.

It wasn’t my first choice of school — actually, it was probably somewhere right in the middle of my college list.

My out-of-state options never panned out the way I wanted them to — the mountain of overwhelming debt seemed far too high for my logical brain to take the risk — so I reluctantly decided to attend Cal State Fullerton, sealing my fate with an approval checkmark on the online application.

Being the overdramatic person that I was, I automatically assumed the worst.

My big flashy dreams of heading to a college on the East Coast, where I could experience distinct seasons and live a life of liberating independence, became shattered fragments of a broken promise to myself that would never come true.

By attending Cal State Fullerton, and not some flashy school in the city, I foolishly believed that I had met my end and was doomed to a future of nothingness. My brain went down a slippery slope of complete falsehoods that utterly shattered my usually unbreakable self-confidence.

For once in my life, I didn’t know what I wanted, much less what I was going to do.

All throughout the summer, I moaned and whined, freaking out more than I would like to admit.  

My world started to close around me, and my depression only got worse, with my emotions starting to slip out in front of people. Though I’ve never been comfortable shedding a tear, even in front of someone I think I am close to, I was at the point that I needed help.  

I started going to therapy, where I came to terms with the little things I never would openly admit to myself.

When I didn’t get my way, I assumed I hadn’t worked hard enough in high school or that I needed to be smarter. I believed my failures were fatal flaws that would be detrimental to any possibility of a decent future.

Orientation, as expected, was also a mess. The few people who I spoke to seemed genuinely eager to attend, happy to have gotten into their ideal college. They could see a great bounty of opportunities available, but I refused to believe it.

I’d never been one for patience, but looking at my future peers who were so eager and motivated to attend Cal State Fullerton made me a frustrated, miserable wreck.

I couldn’t admit this to myself back then, but I felt humiliated. In my imagination, I could almost feel a bright red stamp on my head that read, “failure,” but I couldn’t figure out why.

Everyone I’ve ever met has claimed that the first year of college is a growing experience and that it wouldn’t be easy. This cliche philosophy always annoyed me, but they’ve all been annoyingly right — in an overarching thematic way.

The college experience is part of coming of age and is a struggle, with about 1 in 8 full-time freshmen reporting that they felt “frequently” depressed, according to The American Freshman, National Norms Fall 2016, a study done by UCLA.

I can’t say that my feelings toward attending Cal State Fullerton changed overnight. The first few weeks still aren’t my fondest of memories, and they are tucked into the back of my brain with the label “Dark Year.”

It probably took me the entire first semester to realize that my problems weren’t coming from attending Cal State Fullerton, but they were instead rooted in myself. My attitude had been negatively affecting my chances at opportunities, not the university. My unwillingness to be open to challenges had shut me off from everything the school had to offer.

I hadn’t fulfilled the romanticized version of college life that I had conjured in my mind as a pretentious high school student. While I hadn’t gotten what I wanted, that didn’t mean my life was over and my career would be put away into a coffin.

Cal State Fullerton might not have been my number one choice, but it still had everything I cared about: a place to learn and, more importantly, to write. Even though it may have not been my top college, that didn’t necessarily mean my melodramatic overreaction was warranted.

Slowly, I opened myself up more and adjusted to this mentality, and as if being rewarded, I stumbled across an email that would change my experience forever — an application for the school newspaper, the Daily Titan.

Of course, my dream of living in a big city still hasn’t changed, but my narrow-minded one-track mind has come to terms with the most frightening idea of all — the unexpected.

More importantly, I’ve realized that closing myself off didn’t bring forth anything good, especially when limitless opportunities are available in just about any place.

Cal State Fullerton wasn’t my first choice, and it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but sometimes unplanned situations can end up being a better experience than anything that would be seemingly perfect.

Future challenges may arise, and as expected, I’ll undergo another series of overwhelming emotions, but I’ve gained a far more resilient and hopeful mentality for life, and I know that I’ll be able to overcome anything.

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