An example of playing it safe was with my major. I was told I was good at math in school and had a scientific mind, so I took the “easy” route and majored in Physics with a minor in Mathematics, which would change to Computer Science, then to nothing as I would drop out not too long after.
It was halfway through my first semester at the University of Idaho that I began to realize that I was behind, very behind. My first physics class was a seminar where Physics majors were shown career possibilities they had studying physics and most of them had to do with science. I wanted to work on video game engines, which have a lot to do with physics. However, I would be knocked off my grandiose pedestal.
I began to meet the people in my seminar and all of them had taken high-level math classes in high school, including AP classes, and some were taking 300-level calculus classes as freshman. Me? Well, I had to take algebra. Again. I was never confident, but when I began to realize that I was completely over my head, any little shred of confidence I had was destroyed and I cracked and sunk far into depression. Only in my first semester of college I began to doubt myself and what exactly what I was supposed to be doing. After Thanksgiving break things began to get worse. My depression increased and I eventually stopped going to most of my classes and slept through the day when I was done crying myself to sleep. What was I doing? I asked myself. Why am I here? Why did I choose this? This is all I know. Goddammit, I’m a failure. With no purpose, I drifted.
It’s funny, actually, I had more courage to climb down a fifty-foot ladder into a pitch-black hole filled with dust and graffiti yet I was too much of a bitch to go and experiment with different career options. At the end of the semester I dropped out and went back home with my tail between my legs. My mom didn’t care, she was proud of me even getting that far, but I still felt like a failure. I failed at what I was meant to do.
Adam, my best friend, was a saint during this time. He listened to me tear myself down and tell myself how I didn’t deserve any sympathy. If he hadn’t been there for me, I don’t know what would have happened, but it wouldn’t have been good.
My depression waxed and waned during the year or so after I dropped out, and it was another night where Adam and I were drinking. He was doing shots of rot-gut vodka and I was sipping on a screwdriver. We were both getting rather tipsy, I had only had a couple screwdrivers, but Adam had an iron liver and was pounding back the rot-gut like he was trying to drink an Irishman under the table. While Adam was doing his best impersonation of Charlie Sheen, I was on Facebook on my phone. It was the middle of spring, around graduation time, and I saw old friends from high school celebrating the end of college. Some majored in business, others were going on to be teachers, one was a Mechanical Engineering major when he was always known as “the acting guy” back in high school. I had already felt like I was behind when I heard the stories of my classmates in my physics seminar, but seeing my old friends so happy about graduating and having imminent success, it crushed me.
I was always a happy drunk, alcohol made me less shy, so when Adam heard my silence he knew something was wrong. He slammed back his next shot and grabbed a beer and started sipping on it.
“What’s wrong, kiddo?” he asked me.
I sighed. “It feels like a knife goes through my heart every time I see one of these posts of my old classmates in their caps and gowns. I should be there with them. I should be walking across the stage, too, and getting my diploma with them. I don’t know, man, I just don’t feel like anything is worth it anymore.” I swirled my drink around in my glass then took a sip.
Adam then grabbed a beer and shotgunned it and threw his can in the trash. “Listen, okay, I’m fucking sick and tired of you playing ‘poor me, poor me, I’m a pariah, the world’s not fair.’ Seriously, you need to fucking get over yourself. Bitching, moaning, and crying isn’t going to get you fucking anywhere. I’ve listened to this for years and it’s about fucking time I said something and slap your shit in. You know what’s your biggest flaw? You’re not willing to take risks. You have no courage, no balls. You can barely leave the house because you’re so scared of what people will think about you. If something doesn’t go your way, you throw a fit and give up. So what these fuck-asses on Facebook are graduating before you? Everyone’s circumstances are different. You keep trying to make yourself live up to these imaginary standards so you can intentionally fail and can bitch about how the world isn’t fair. Fucking get over yourself.”
I just sat there, staring at the floor, trying not to cry. It hurt. It hurt so much because it was all true, every single word he said was true. I always played it safe and wasn’t willing to take risks. My entire life consisted of living comfortably numb and unwilling to do anything. When I would think about where I would be at forty, all I saw was me sitting at my TV playing a first-person shooter, getting fucked left and right and quitting because I couldn’t take the pressure.
I managed to nod. “You’re right,” I said before sniffling. “You’re right about everything. I don’t have the courage to let myself fail and learn from my mistakes.”
“Obviously,” Adam said before getting another beer. “I only speak the truth.”
“So, what should I do?” I looked up at him and it was obvious I had been crying.
Adam shrugged his shoulders, cracked open his dollar-store beer, and took a long gulp. “I don’t know, that’s something you have to figure out.”
A few years after that night, I was making my own way across a stage in front of a packed audience in an arena with a degree, the first in my family, that said proudly on it “cum laude”. Adam watched on in the audience with my mother and clapped loudly when my name was called. It may have been only two people, but for me, it felt like the entire arena came unglued.