How I Became An Academic

 I recently posted a call for new writers to join my Defining Moments Series. I was so pleased to have a great response and hope to bring you a new writer every week for the next few weeks. Ashley from Writing to Reach You was the first kind soul to contribute. See what she has to say about being an academic and then head over to her blog and subscribe. She won’t disappoint!

Ashley from Writing to Reach You

No one ever believes me when I say this, but I was not a smart child.  I  had a crazy imagination and I was very sensitive, but I wasn’t smart.  I knew the smart girls, because they were my friends, but I wasn’t one of them.  I showed potential, which a lot of my teachers recognized, but I wasn’t on the track to success in school.  Given the choice, as I often was, I would always rather go out and play than sit inside and read.

My friends were all very focused on school, which made me feel like the  aimless one.  I didn’t have big ambitions or think much about the  future, and none of this is all that weird for a kid, but it seems so  unlike the person I am now.  What strikes me as different about this  defining moment is that it was not inevitable. I can see myself  continuing down the path that I was on, and I have no idea where it  would have taken me, because what happened next completely changed the  shape of my life.

I had this really sweet elementary school existence.  My public school  was small enough that I knew everyone and had forever, and they kind of  accepted me as the weird kid that I was.  I had good friends who were so loyal that I didn’t know friends came any other way.  Then it came time for middle school, and my best friend moved to another state, another  close friend went to a different school, and the rest of us were  scattered across a large campus with no classes together.  It felt like  we had all been thrown into a completely different world.

I adjusted very well to this new world at first.  Either my aimlessness  or the butterfly clips I wore in my hair attracted one of the cool girls to me, and she was cool enough that being friends with her also meant  that you were friends with all of her friends.  In that crowd, I found a new best friend, and we grew close really quickly.  I knew I was kind  of out of my element.  These girls were not like the girls I’d been  friends with in elementary school, but they were nice enough and they  were cool.

Everything changed when my new best friend got a boyfriend and proceeded to forget I existed.  I honestly don’t know if she ignored me for a couple of  days or several weeks, but it really didn’t matter, because those girls  from elementary school had taught me to expect so much more from my  friends.  At some point, she apologized, but I didn’t forgive her.   Instead, I distanced myself from her and our entire group of friends.

In a very short period of time, I went from being friends with a large  group of cool kids to having almost no friends at all.  Sometimes I  still saw a few of the girls from elementary school, and I always had at least a couple of people to eat lunch with, but mostly I was alone.  I  went from aimless to completely lost.  I would not have been surprised  if a fork had literally fallen from the sky and blocked my way, because  choosing not to forgive my friend sent me on the path that I am still on today.

I can’t remember if I started focusing on school, because I had nothing  else to do, or if I fell in with the nerdy kids, because I was desperate for friends, but I quickly went from sitting in the back of the  classroom to the very front.  My new friends were not the lovable nerds  you’d expect if this were a movie, but some sense of competition between us pushed me to do better.  They didn’t seem to realize that I was just playing the role of the good student–that it wasn’t really me.

Middle school was the only time in my life where I didn’t have at least a  couple really close friends who understood me.  It was the only time in  my life where I have ever been lonely for an extended period of time.   It sucked for that reason, but I made the best of my solitude.  I  started reading for fun, which changed my life.  I started listening to  music I really liked instead of just what my friends liked.  Despite  being a mediocre student in elementary school, I had always been  recognized for my writing, but middle school was when writing became  important to me.  I created the person I would become.

I did well enough with what remained of sixth grade to earn all of the  Most Improved awards at the end of the year.  It was strange to me how  quickly I became one of the smart kids.  It would take me years and  years to come around to seeing myself that way, but I marveled at how  easy it was to become a completely different person in the eyes of other people.  I continued to earn good grades in seventh and eighth grade,  so when it was time to start high school, I chose to sign up for all of  the Honors and AP classes.

I can’t imagine it’s really all that surprising to anyone but me that I’m now working on a PhD.  I have been on this track since sixth grade.  But, for me, my identity is very much wrapped up in the person I was before sixth grade.  She feels like a  stranger and a friend.  And my defining moment is so complex to me,  because it wasn’t a moment of glory–it was a show of weakness.  I  should have forgiven my friend.  She went through some difficult things  in the years that followed and I’m sorry I wasn’t there for her.  But,  I’m grateful that instead of getting caught up in the current that was  pulling me into a different kind of life, I was forced to step back and  learn to be alone and think about who I wanted to be.

Are you interested in writing a post for the Defining Moments Series? If so, email me at reinventerin (at) gmail (dot) com

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