Christmas and New Year’s Day both fall in the middle of the week this year and I’ve been fortunate enough to take some the time off from work. Between holiday celebrations with friends, I’ve been spending some much needed time on my couch, staring mindlessly at my TV and ruminating about the year to come.
Late one night, I was seeking something light and fun to accompany my attempt at putting away the dregs of past nights out on my bedroom floor and I turned on the movie After.
This is not a great movie. The plotline is not original (spoiler alert, but not really if you have a brain). Girl goes to college planning to major in Economics while maintaining high school boyfriend back home. Girl falls in love with troubled college boy who shares her passion for classic literature. Girl breaks up with high school boyfriend, changes major to English, lives happily ever after.
As I watched the rather expected story play out, my mind wandered back to my first year at college. I went off to the University of Richmond planning to major in journalism. Fairly early in my freshman year, I fell for a tall, dark and handsome but troubled boy.
The world felt fresh, new, and open. There were parties to dress up for, new friends from around the country, and classes that made me think differently. When I return to UR on a sunny Spring day, I can look at the sprawling green courtyard I crossed to go to class and feel what 18-year-old me felt. I saw a world full of hope that could bring so many amazing possibilities. I didn’t know what was coming, but I was excited about it. I spent time dreaming about the future and what I could be.
Since that time, I have changed. I’ve moved through numerous jobs. I’ve faced frustrations and uncertainty. I’ve made it through negative performance reviews. I’ve moved up in the corporate world. Sometimes I still feel unhappy with where I am and unsure about what I want to do.
I’ve also been in and out of numerous romantic relationships. Some have changed and hardened me. I remember a boyfriend right after college saying he didn’t know how I was so confident in myself or so optimistic about the world. When he broke up with me to very quickly begin dating a younger coworker, a bit of that optimism chipped away. Now, after years of failures and disappointments, I don’t think of myself as rock-solid confident or naively optimistic anymore.
There have also been accomplishments. I have made intentional changes and advances in my career. I’ve added an MBA to my resume. I have a wonderful network of friends and family. I live a fun and abundant life that other people regularly tell me they envy. But I can also tend to weigh the good things less, focusing on what I don’t have and where I am unfulfilled.
The girl I was in college saw possibility in a walk to class, a Friday night party, a trip out to dinner or a quick run for cup of coffee. She was less emotionally guarded. She shared her inner hopes and dreams without fear of being judged or of failing. She watched movies like After looking for underlying messages (I took a lot of film classes) and soaking up the silly romance instead of cynically writing them off as sappy and unrealistic.
As After comes to a close, girl gets a publishing internship and changes her major to English. She realizes troubled boy really does love her and they amble off into the sunset. There’s a weird part where boy turns in a final paper that’s really a letter to girl. Somehow instead of flunking him, the professor gives girl the letter because “it’s really meant for her.” Alongside my eye rolling and wondering what happens in a year when girl realizes boy is actually an impulsive idiot, or in 5 years when girl is making no money working as a full-time writer, another idea crept in.
Perhaps in 2020, I should rediscover college me. I can embrace the wiser and stronger person I have become, but I can also choose to view a world of endless possibilities. I can start each day with hope and wonder what I’ll experience instead of focusing on where I feel stuck or what I am lacking. I can open my heart and my emotions instead of locking them down to protect myself. I can weigh my accomplishments over the failures. I can let people in, be vulnerable, take chances. I can return to a world that’s full of dreams, openness and creativity and see where it leads.