stephen chbosky

It All Makes Sense Now: Living So The Words Have Meaning

Taylor SwiftWhen my best friend and I were in high school and our earlier years of college, we constantly compared the boys in our lives to the boys in Taylor Swift songs. From the guys who were perfect in every way who simply didn’t notice us to the guys from whom we had drifted apart, we loved rocking out to T. Swift’s music in the car because we knew that, at any time, we could relate to at least something on her album.

Music often has the power to bring us back to a single moment in time, reminding us of the emotions — both good and bad — that came along with it. But little do we realize that those pivotal moments in our lives are exactly what give the lyrics their meaning. If we hadn’t met that one person, been in a particular place at a particular time, or experienced heartbreak, we wouldn’t truly comprehend those life events about which the songs were written in the first place.

musicAfter one break-up, I was listening to a few old favorites of mine, and one song – an older song written in some sort of extended metaphor that has been covered by probably a hundred artists since its inception – began to play. It was a song I’d always thought was beautiful, but I was never really sure why. This time, I felt an intense sadness as I meditated on a few key lyrics, as I realized, I finally know what he’s singing about. In a strange way, this simple realization made me feel that much more connected to the artist, the song and even to the world.

It goes like this: you can read The Perks of Being a Wallflower and think that you know what it means to be “infinite,” but eventually you will end up in a situation that actually makes you feel infinite, and suddenly you have a greater appreciation and understanding of the book itself.

It is important to take that leap of faith and live so that the words have meaning. (Tweet this!) It might not turn out the way you had hoped – it might sting – but you owe it to yourself to enter relationships honestly and to remain open to unfamiliar opportunities.

Until You Learn To Love Yourself

Last week, with Ne-Yo’s Let Me Love You playing in the background at the gym (yes, I like Ne-Yo), I started to let the song’s lyrics sink in for the first time. For those unfamiliar with this song, the basic premise is that “I will love you until you learn to love yourself.” As much as I find Ne-Yo’s lyrics incredibly sweet and romantic, my practical side can’t help but question whether or not the song describes a particularly healthy relationship.

Ne-Yo sings to a girl who has never known love and who doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of herself, either. In the song, he promises to serve as the self esteem and love that she’s missing. However, although our significant others should build us up when we’re down and believe in us when we have our doubts, we shouldn’t be in a place where we need them to do this for us all the time.

This may sound harsh — and it would imply that a lot of people who are currently in relationships shouldn’t be — but until we learn to love ourselves, we shouldn’t call upon someone else to do that for us. If you are unhappy more often than you are happy with the world around you, then it doesn’t matter how perfect someone is, because you’re just not ready to be in a relationship. If you don’t love yourself (or, at the very least, like yourself), then you can’t reciprocate the wonderful support that you receive from your significant other, regardless of how willing that person is to be there for us. Is that fair to the person you care about?

Your boyfriend or girlfriend should seek to boost your confidence, but that shouldn’t be the primary goal. A relationship should be mutually beneficial, and as mentioned before, that can be nearly impossible when Person A is always questioning himself or herself, and wondering what Person B sees in him or her. Similarly, when we aren’t happy with ourselves, we don’t always pursue the healthiest relationships. As Stephen Chbosky writes in one of my favorite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Therefore, if we don’t love ourselves, we might remain in relationships with people who treat us poorly because we don’t think we deserve any better.

Ultimately, building your self image is difficult, and often a work in progress. In fact, most of us have a long way to go before we realize how much we truly deserve. Until you learn to love or like yourself, it’s best to take some time to yourself and reflect upon what makes you happy. Develop yourself in the best way you can, strengthen your platonic relationships, discover a hobby, and think about everything you are thankful for. Only after you’ve rebuilt yourself and found your version of happiness on your own can you accept the love of another person.

The Freshman 15: Life-Changing College Moments

As a 20-year-old girl who is halfway through her sophomore year, I’ve got one thing on my mind: change. It’s something I blog about quite often — change in one’s perspective, change in one’s relationships, change in one’s life events — and part of my obsession with change has to do with the fact that I’m in college. After all, college itself presents a series of life changes, and we would all be lying if we said we didn’t allow our environments to change us.

January is an especially important time of year to recognize change. Because we have entered a new year, we are more likely to embrace the new experiences that we’re exposed to. Although it hasn’t even been two years since I first enrolled in college, I already feel like I have undergone some meaningful changes within that time, and that many of those experiences have become defining moments in my life.

For this month’s Freshman 15, I wanted to discuss some of those defining moments that many college students I know have experienced. Feel free to chime in with some of your own!

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The Freshman 15: Life-Changing College Moments

1. The first time you refer to your dorm room as “home.”
For some, this moment comes quickly — in my case, within my first week of summer as a college freshman. And it can be a slightly emotional experience, because you might feel like by feeling so comfortable away from your family, you are betraying the home you have always known. It’s the moment when you realize that your dorm room is not just a few cinderblocks and some interesting wood furniture that no one actually owns in a real house, but rather, it is the place you always return to… a place where you’ve already begun to make some memories.

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2. Establishing your core group of friends.
Chances are, you won’t remain friends with everyone you met at orientation. However, as the year progresses, the large group of freshmen you once clung to will begin to dwindle, and soon you’ll find yourself with the ones who you really click with. In college, you have a larger pool of potential friendships, and therefore you are more likely to find people you’re more compatible with than those you socialized with in high school. These friends will be the ones who help you through everything (and vice versa), and you will be thankful that you took the time to find them. If you’re the social butterfly, reach out to someone else — you can really make their (and your!) college experience all the more worthwhile.

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3. Attending your first college “party.”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge partier and I never have been. However, regardless of how many house parties you went to in high school, there is something exciting about going to your first actual party in college. Whether you’re looking for a raging frat party or a fun but slightly uneventful evening, you will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for. Plus, through trial and error, I was able to find out that I strongly preferred parties to awkward clubbing excursions anyway!

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4. Doing all of those household activities you never thought you’d do.
Before college, I had done laundry maybe twice, and only with parental supervision. Boiling water? Ha! Who needed to boil water when you could just stick a frozen dinner in the microwave? Of course, I quickly learned some of the vital life skills for self-sufficiency, and I transformed from Girl-Who-Couldn’t-Use-Oven to Girl-Who-Bakes-Cookies-For-Everyone. A year and a half later, I maintain a tidy apartment and am more than capable of taking care of those daily chores. Of course, it is difficult not to have someone around to help you all the time, but being completely tossed in a situation in which you have to fend for yourself can actually be beneficial once in a while.

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5. Discovering Hulu.
Okay… maybe this one isn’t exactly life-changing. But having access to all of your favorite shows whenever you want to watch them is an important skill indeed. Hulu taught me that it was okay to be busy — I could still have my down-time whenever I wanted.

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6. Finding an organization on campus where you belong.
Knowing where you fit in and feeling a strong connection to that entity is one of the best things you will ever get out of college. The more you try to get involved, the better chance you will have at finding the club that changes your life. To quote Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower: “I don’t remember where and I don’t remember when. I don’t even remember the season. I just know that it was the first time I felt like I belonged someplace.” This is exactly how I felt when I first became involved in my honors college, and it is a feeling that I hope every college freshman will pursue.

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7. Realizing it’s okay to ask for help.
Whether you decide to visit your professor in office hours or you attend tutoring sessions to prepare for exams, you are doing exactly what is right for you. In high school, there was always that stigma against asking for help — if you went in with extra questions, people might have made judgments about your intelligence in order to feel better about themselves. Nowadays, going in for assistance is often the “smart” thing to do. Once I realized that not knowing didn’t make me any less of a student, college became a lot easier for me.

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8. Reuniting with old friends for the first time since college.
Let’s be honest for a minute… when I left for college, I did not want to look back. By the end of high school, I no longer considered myself particularly close with many people, and I was thrilled to move forward and meet new friends. However, I did maintain some close friendships, and occasionally I caught up with my high school acquaintances during vacation. Seeing people you haven’t spoken to in almost a year shows you how much you have changed since the last time you were both in the same place at the same time. You make for polite conversation, but at the same time you know that you have only drifted apart even farther.

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9. Taking an introductory course that ends up making all the difference.
I originally applied to college with every intention of becoming a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. Soon after I started freshman year, I realized that while I still loved writing, I did not want to work for newspapers and constantly focus on the negative. I changed my major to Advertising/Public Relations on a whim, mainly because a career aptitude test on the Internet suggested it to me, and then enrolled in the two prerequisite classes: Principles of Advertising and Introduction to Public Relations. Those classes not only made me fall madly in love with the integrated marketing field, but they also gave me exactly the inspiration I needed. Within the semester, I became involved in two clubs related to the major, started working on my resume and created my very first blog.

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10. Realizing that you like to learn and it doesn’t make you dorky.
College provides so many guest speakers, self improvement seminars and other educational events that you’d be crazy not to take advantage. Being at such a well-rounded university re-instilled in me a thirst for knowledge, one that I hope college freshmen will develop early on.

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11. Going home for the first time.
Being in your old room becomes an out-of-body experience. Your parents and family will begin to notice changes in you that you hadn’t even begun to notice in yourself. Even after I came home from my first month at school, I couldn’t get over how many relatives had commented on how much I’d grown up in that time. Many of my friends began to undergo those same changes in that short period of time as well.

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12. Volunteering with a group.
Everyone needs a cause to believe in and support. As a freshman, I went to a place called Give Kids The World with the honors college at my school, and immediately fell in love with the organization. GKTW is a place for families with children that have life-threatening illnesses to relax for a week and enjoy the theme parks as well as the organization’s own attractions. Going to this organization to volunteer gave me more of a purpose and a platform as I made my way through the first two years.

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13. Getting your heart broken.
To put it lightly… this one sucks. It’s one of those “character building” moments that you really don’t want to happen. But college teaches you to be careful about who you trust in or how much happiness you can place in another person, and by getting hurt, you are simply learning that lesson the hard way. At the same time, you learn to treasure those who really are there for you, and some relationships do grow stronger. You also begin to learn what you will and won’t accept from someone else.

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14. Recognizing that who you were in high school doesn’t matter.
Who cares if you were the jock or the nerd? Who cares what your GPA was or how you did on your SAT? You’re already in college at this point, so none of this matters. College gives you the chance to rebrand yourself, create a new identity and throw away the past if you so choose. At twenty years old, the petty memories of high school hardly mean anything to me anymore. People simply become characters and your former life becomes just another story.

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15. Realizing that you have a choice in your future.
Now that you’re in college, you are just beginning to gain some control in your life. You choose your major, your friends, your daily habits, your classes, your career path. The choices you make now will start to shape who you will become, and it can be exciting and terrifying at the same time. Be sure not to make any hasty decisions, and put yourself first. It’s your life.

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I hope you enjoyed! Here are some questions to consider:

- What were some of the defining moments in your college experience?
- If you aren’t in college yet, what are you most looking forward to?
- What topics are you looking to learn more about in the Freshman 15 series? Post your answers below! :)

The Perks of Being a Participant

“Sometimes people use thought not to participate in life.” – Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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All too often, we let our thoughts get the best of us. Instead of engaging in a lively discussion in our classes, we fade into the background, focusing mostly on some fixed point across the room and the words we would be contributing if we decided to speak up. Instead of adding our own expertise to the conversations surrounding us, we sometimes bottle it up, leaving ourselves feeling unfulfilled and the conversations somehow incomplete. We worry about our inadequacy, even though others often see us as experts in our fields, and what does this accomplish?

When you want to learn about other people and gain insights, it’s often important to shut your mouth and really listen to what they have to say… it’s also a great way to make new friends (see #5). And when you’re in class and everyone is discussing a particular topic, sometimes it’s healthy to just sit back and soak it all in. But there comes the time when you can’t just rely on quietly observing, a time when you need to just dive in.

For the more outgoing readers, this might not sound like such a big deal, but for some of us it can be difficult to step out of our shells and share our thoughts and opinions. After all, what will others think? What if the things we say aren’t important or interesting enough? The words are at the tip of our tongues but we keep quiet for fear of failure or imperfection, or simply because we’re afraid of revealing a more vulnerable aspect of ourselves.

As someone who has bounced back and forth between being extroverted and painfully shy at different points in my life, I have definitely struggled to find the balance between speaking up and stepping back. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has always resonated with me (even though I was barely a toddler at the time the events of the book took place), but Chbosky’s words that I quoted at the beginning ring especially true. I’ve found that the more I speak up in certain classes, the better my grades usually are and the easier it is for me to stay focused and interested in the subject matter. The more involved I am at club meetings, the more I feel like a part of something bigger. Obviously it’s not a good idea to let your ideas dominate — you want to be open to others, and you don’t want to be known as the one who won’t let anyone get a word in — but a lot of times when I don’t say something important that’s on my mind, I only regret it later.

Anyway, it’s important to be engaged in what you do because it allows you to accomplish more than you would otherwise. It fosters new relationships and connections, allows for self-expression, and helps you to grow as a person.

You don’t have to go out and join every club on campus or speak up in class every time a somewhat relevant thought pops into your head, but I do encourage and challenge each of my more introverted readers to get out of your comfort zones today. Keep observing everything you can around you, but raise your hand at least once in class, or tell a club officer what’s on your mind. Baby steps each day will help us all to grow and change for the better. :)