An Exercise in Existing

The sun warming my face as I walked down the sidewalk that afternoon had changed. Having passed into the heart of September, the air was laden with the first foreshadows of fall. Soon the air would be accented with the smell of smoke rising from burning piles, and sharp breezes and frosty mornings would usher in the season of floppy sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes. Of course, with these whispers of the season to come were also the tappings of academic stress on the back door of my mind–of the beginnings of hard, exhausting work blowing in with the steadfast clouds.

Per the norm, I had a few obligations pinned up in my mental bulletin board that day, but, as I sat alone in a bright corner of my favorite coffee shop, I resolved to postpone them further. Taking a long draw from my iced mocha, I turned on a song I’ve recently developed a preoccupation for (because it fits well with characters from a novel I’m working on), and pulled out my sketchbook. Upon opening it and readying my pencil over an empty, amazing-smelling page, I furtively glanced around. The coffee shop wasn’t particularly crowded, and, unfortunately, I had inadvertently positioned myself at an inconvenient angle for what I intended to do. I turned my attention to the window close to my right, hoping I wouldn’t have to wait too long before someone came into view.

People-watching: the main goal of which is to place myself in a social setting and attempt to observe and draw people without them catching me creepily staring at them. I had first heard about this pursuit from a sociology assignment my friend had freshman year, and later on, when I learned it also afforded the opportunity to practice life drawing, I naturally decided to try it for myself. As it turns out, it immediately entered my list of self-care. 

I found it extremely therapeutic to go out and alight somewhere to just sit and be for a while. No deadlines, no stress, no pressure. Nothing to prove to anyone, nothing to compare myself with. Only observation and reflection as my hand attempts to capture at least some semblance of the world around me.

Through this activity, I find time to breathe, and I am able to sit back and notice people as the fascinating and complex beings God created. I hadn’t realized before how extremely dynamic people are, even while simply walking or standing still. It invariably fosters my appreciation for life in general, and, with an amused smile, I compliment God on his awesomeness.

I have decided to engage in people-watching on a regular basis—especially when I’m stressed out or frustrated with life. Its combination of studiousness and lack of direction allows my mind to quiet down, keeping my voracious need for progress occupied like a small child with a coloring book as I take some time to simply exist.

Because we can strive and dream all we want, but it’s good to step back once and a while and appreciate the beautiful fact that we are alive.

The Grass in Extrovert Territory

When I moved onto campus as a college freshman two years ago, I was under the impression I could be whomever I wanted from that day forward. Practically no one knew me at my new school, which was an amazing prospect. I had attended the same small private Christian school for 9 years, and I was ridiculously ready to step out of the person my previous classmates knew me to be—the quiet, overachieving know-it-all who was prone to hideous fashion choices and an underlying proud streak.

I believed that, with some effort, I could be outgoing as a college student. I could be socially confident, self-sacrificing, real and warm and empathetic. I could be the type of person who held an active part in large group conversations, who reveled in social events, and who navigated society with charming enthusiasm. God willing, I could even find a boyfriend.

However, I remember lying awake one night that same year, staring up at the dark ceiling of my dorm room and still being so sick of my personality that I wished there was a way to take some sort of break from it. It seemed I had simply declined, not advanced toward my sparkly, extroverted goal. Instead of fun-loving and social, my personality was a vibrating box of high-maintenance and chronic inner turmoil, and to top it off, I felt like an apathetic cardboard cutout of a perfectionist who couldn’t genuinely care about anybody.

What was life like for those people I saw everywhere on campus—who were always smiling and laughing with friends, even when they had mountains of homework? Those who knew and cared about absolutely everyone, who were hyper involved, and who generally seemed very comfortable in their own skin?

It didn’t seem fair. Their confidence and passion intimidated me….

I wanted to be an extrovert too.

But I wouldn’t be happier as an extrovert, as being human in general is difficult. It’s not a matter of whether one derives restoration from being with people or spending time alone. Everyone is different, with their own set of virtues and faults, their own areas of confidence and painful insecurity. It’s easy to feel like we’re the ones with all the problems, as we feel the pain of our own shortcomings, but only see what others show of their unique struggles–making comparison a very detrimental game.

So, ultimately, the grass in introvert territory is just as green as that of extrovert territory, and both sides have their flowers and thorns.

Transitioning from resentment to appreciation of my personality was a gradual and messy sequence of events that remains ongoing to this day, and as I step into my junior year of college, I am more clueless than ever of who I am–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But I have since decided that I want very much to be myself.