Sometimes I worry that being in Chicago is making me hard again. I was a tough, tough girl when I got to college as a freshman – way tougher than I’d like to admit now – and I was darn proud of it back then. I went through a lot of things that made me a resilient person, and I’m thankful for every one of them. In some ways, I think I was more confident as a college freshman than I am now. But I definitely had some walls up, and I was definitely a little bit of a bull. I was quiet, harder to get to know, and felt like people had to prove themselves to me before I’d let them in.
Then, this crazy thing called life happened, and I got a little softer. I was in the South, where it was “Hey, how ya doin” all the time. Where the default greeting is a hug. Where everyone smiles at you, whether they know you or not. Where you can run into someone on the sidewalk and they’ll ask you how you’re doing, and they legitimately want to know. I joined a sorority, which encouraged me to wear my emotions on my sleeve in a way I’d never done before. I was never the most bubbly person in the room, but I found a side of me that was vivacious and fun and could let loose, and it was great. I grew to love being outgoing and letting my guard down, and I enjoyed being that person who would talk to anyone in any situation. Then I discovered the world of student affairs, and shortly before I headed off to grad school, someone told me I’d have to be mindful that I was always open and “touchy feely” enough to work with students.
I appreciated that comment, but it rubbed me the wrong way because it reminded me of where I came from and how much I’d changed. I really came out of my shell in college, and I was proud of that. When I first got here, that comment really stuck in my mind, but I figured I’d just own my personality. I am who I am – I know that I’m not ever going to be the most outgoing, smiley person in the room, and that’s okay. But between grad school, this winter, being in a city where it’s more common to see someone else’s hood and scarf than their face, and having to fight tooth and nail with the weather and the inhabitants of this city to get by, something has made me put my walls up again. And I’m not sure I like it. I’m trying to remember to keep that softness, to bring a little sweet tea to the black coffee up here, but it’s hard, and sometimes I just don’t have energy for that. Especially when it’s 9 degrees with a windchill of -15 and about 2 feet of snow on the ground.
They say life doesn’t hand you anything you can’t handle. So maybe this brutal winter is just testing me and making me stronger for whatever’s on the other side. I’m just hoping this means there’s an amazing summer at the end of this crazy ride. And by the time I get to summer, I’ll be so ready to hug everyone and smile all day, it’ll knock y’all’s socks off.