(Cross-posted at The Bradford Bunch.)

I went to visit my sister this weekend. She goes to Valparaiso University in Indiana, just as I did. It’s amazing to me that, even after more than a decade, just being on campus brightens my mood. Old buildings have been torn down and new ones put up in their places; the main road through campus no longer goes all the way through, much to my befuddlement; most of the familiar faces are gone, with the exception of my sister, her friends, and few professors. But it still feels like home to me, in a way few other places do.

I hated high school. Well, maybe “hate” is too strong a word. I endured high school. I don’t think it was anybody’s fault but my own. I was just never comfortable in my own skin (something I still struggle with) and spent an enormous amount of time analyzing everything being said and done around me, in the hopes of determining a pattern and/or the “right” thing to say and do. Now, granted, that has paid off with my ability to recall that time in my life with ridiculous accuracy, but it was not a fun few years.

And my worst fear when it came time to choose a college was that I would be in for four more years of the same. I visited all sorts of schools in that year or year and a half and tried to picture myself at each of them. Valpo felt right to me in a way that none of the others did. I remember that I couldn’t exactly express to my skeptical parents why this, the most expensive school on my list with the least amount of financial aid available, was the right fit.

I wanted to be an English major so it wasn’t that the school offered something I couldn’t get elsewhere. It’s a private university with a Lutheran-affiliation…just like two others on my short list. It wasn’t the biggest school on my list (10,000 plus) or the smallest (1,000–yikes).

But from the time I took that on-campus tour (I still remember what I was wearing), I knew this was the place for me. Actually, that makes me sound like I was a lot more certain than I was at the time. It was really more like the first time I felt this vague, I don’t know, *push* toward something. A gut instinct, maybe. It was weird, exciting and terrifying. If I wanted this, I’d really have to work at it. There would be convincing my parents and then getting loans (which I would be paying off until my early thirties). And what if I was wrong? What if I was mistaken about what I thought was guidance? All of this was based on something I couldn’t quite identify–a feeling, an instinct, a whisper you can’t quite hear. Rational thinking would have led me to an entirely different choice.

I wrestled with the decision for months, both before and after I made it. And I have the journals to prove it.

But I did it. I pushed to go to Valpo, even though I had no overriding reason to do so other than instinct, even though my parents were worried about the money, the effect the loans would have on my future, and more.

It was the first time I’d ever heard that little voice inside myself speaking up loudly and insistently enough that I had to listen. I made a big choice that my parents were probably less than thrilled with at the time, my first act of independent thinking and, honestly, rebellion. I was, and still am, a people-pleaser, so making a decision I knew they didn’t like was incredibly hard for me.

But it was the right decision for me, in so very many ways. First in that I found what I was looking for. A community, a place where I could thrive and belong just by being myself. I also got an amazing education, my best friends in the whole world, and my husband, too–all from that one decision.

But there’s more. Listening to that vague voice for the first time and realizing I was correct to do so was invaluable. Not just because it landed me where I needed to be, though that is certainly true. But because that’s the same voice that pushed and nagged at me to write my first book, and then to write another when the first was more of a learning experience rather than anything publishable.

It’s still the voice I listen for today when I’m writing, though some days it’s hard to hear it over the shouting of my own worries and fears. That’s when I know it’s time to calm things down and just listen.

I am proud of myself for listening and pursuing what I felt was right, both back when I was picking a college and when I started to write. It’s never an easy thing to buck the crowd and ignore those who tell you you’re making a mistake, you’re taking an unnecessary risk, or you’re going to get hurt. Those are, as always, distinct possibilities with every decision. But what I’ve come to realize is that you have to go with your instincts, trust yourself, and listen to that voice. Because then, at least the dents and dings you get along the way are ones you’ve earned by going after what you want instead of trying to play it safe, by someone else’s standards, and getting hurt and making mistakes anyway.

How about you? Any voices in your life? πŸ™‚

7 comments to “Feeling Philosophical Today…”

  1. Nina Decker
    · September 29th, 2010 at 2:32 am · Link

    It’s funny how it was exactly the other way around for me. I loved High School and knew exactly what I wanted to do. Then after finishing school and starting university everything went to hell. I’m still working to get things in order again. I guess I don’t really can trust my inner voice – any of them πŸ˜‰

    But I’m glad that you had so much luck and that you made your own decisions no matter what anyone said – they brought you this far so they had to be the right ones!

    Just out of curiosity, what was that first novel about?

    • Stacey Kade
      · September 29th, 2010 at 9:53 am · Link

      Ha, Nina, I have not always made wonderful decisions, but those were two big ones that I fought for so they stick out in my mind! πŸ™‚

      The first book was a coming of age story–probably should have been my first clue that Young Adult was the correct field for me to be writing in–about three college freshman trying to find their way through that first year.

  2. Kelly
    · October 2nd, 2010 at 11:53 am · Link

    “spent an enormous amount of time analyzing everything being said and done around me, in the hopes of determining a pattern and/or the Ò€œrightÒ€ thing to say and do.”

    I did nothing but study other kids and the world around me when I was in recess as a young child. After about seventh grade (Three years ago) I got away from the whole, the world is a delicate and confusing place and took up being myself.

    I didn’t necessarily ignored everything but I tuned it down and interacted with others more. Last year I was really sociable and this year I’m mellow and not caring that I “don’t fit in”. Truth is, I do, in my own few ways with everyone. I’m not exactly indifferent I suppose.

    I believe I’m sort of falling in some of your tracks possibly. I really look up to you. :]

    • Stacey Kade
      · October 6th, 2010 at 10:41 pm · Link

      Sounds like you figured it out a lot faster than I did, Kelly! Good for you. πŸ™‚ As difficult as it can be to pretend to be someone you’re not, sometimes it’s harder still to let yourself be who you are and trust that that’s good enough!

      Wish I’d had the good sense to see that years sooner as you have!

      • Stacey Kade
        · October 6th, 2010 at 10:42 pm · Link

        That it’s better to be yourself, I mean. πŸ™‚ Sheesh, I’m getting old. After 9 pm, I no longer make sense! LOL

  3. Magan
    · October 3rd, 2010 at 1:58 pm · Link

    Oi I felt the same way during high school…which is funny that I chose to write YA! College definitely was a better experience for me as well and I’m glad you followed your voice because it seems like so far it hasn’t steered you wrong with your amazing writing! πŸ˜›

    • Stacey Kade
      · October 6th, 2010 at 10:45 pm · Link

      I think, sometimes, being unhappy or feeling like you don’t quite belong is actually a good thing for writing YA in later years. Helps you have that emotion to draw on, you know? πŸ™‚ And I think we’re far more likely to pay attention to the details in that circumstance than when we’re feeling happy and content. Just my two cents, of course!

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