Turning Off Cruise Control

by Sadie Cole

There were 60 students in my high school graduating class. They each knew my dog’s name, the sports I played and the fact that I was 11-and-a-half pounds when I was born. By senior year, I stopped caring about what clothes I wore or what inappropriate comments I made. People knew me by the distinct identity I possessed within the safe, comfortable, collaborative walls that coddled 240 accepting, growing, learning high schoolers. I had a specific place and I never had to work to show people who I was.

I went to a small private school on the rocky coast of Maine, where I was a part of several clubs, was an admission guide, volunteered frequently, played three varsity sports and was close with all of my teachers. My mother worked at the school and drove me most days. I was completely naïve about punishment and consequences. My upbringing coincided with the greeting on Maine’s highway sign: “the way life should be.” 

I felt comfortable walking through the halls each day, knowing that my peers understood who I was. Besides every detail of my personal life, my classmates also recognized my voice. They were familiar with the inflections I used, the sarcastic tone I sometimes let fly and the way I got overly enthusiastic when I really cared about something. 

In the days leading up to my transition to CC, I was not nervous at all. I assumed I would self-navigate fluidly–join lots of clubs, create strong relationships with my new professors, hike every weekend, write for the school newspaper, etcetera. I assumed I would articulate a voice that people would want to hear. 

I finally arrived at CC, a place with arguably similar core values to my high school and thought things would continue to be “the way life should be.” I was greeted, however, with the surprise that self-navigation in college has windy turns and steep climbs. Surrounding me were high-achieving, beautiful, artsy, outdoor-loving, intellectual, WFR-certified rock-climbers who were leaders of every club on campus and knew what they wanted to do with their life. Although, in reality, this might be an exaggeration, as a first-year plopped on campus with Pikes Peak constantly looming over me, reminding me that there is a whole world of possibilities out there, that is what it felt like. 

While floundering through my freshman year, I made some great friends, partied probably a bit too much, took classes (some that I loved, some in which I was not fully invested), played lacrosse (but got a bad concussion) and constantly found myself thinking, I should be doing more. At times I tried to convince myself, I’m doing all right, I’m on a sports team, I’m getting decent grades, I’m being a good friend. But something felt incomplete. I felt like a Subaru set at a cruise control on the beautiful highways of Maine. I had yet to share my voice beyond the walls of Loomis, the doors of my classrooms or the turf of the lacrosse field. 

I came into sophomore year hoping to break out of my comfort zone at CC. I stumbled through my first three blocks. I put some effort into getting a job or joining a club, but never fully pursued one specific thing. I felt unstable–even my major remained “Undeclared.” On the first day of fourth block, walking into my Armstrong classroom seven minutes early, I arrived at my first upper-level Literature class. Two intellectual-looking students were already sitting in the room with glasses on and notebooks in front of them. Our professor walked in wearing a perfectly fitted suit. Realizing I was the single underclassman in the room of only six students, my stomach dropped. Why did I think being an English major would be a good idea? To begin, my professor asked us to introduce ourselves and share the last novel we had read. Each student spoke eloquently and shared a novel that made them sound like a brilliant, cultured, natural reader. I desperately searched my brain for a novel I could say that would gain the approval of my new classmates and professor. 

“Heart of Darkness.”

After the words left my mouth, I immediately felt my whole body crawl inside itself in embarrassment. Why couldn’t I have just said the last popular novel I read? Why couldn’t I have shared a novel I actually enjoyed reading? Why did I feel the need to sound like a philosophical nerd who reads “Heart of Darkness” for fun?

Each day that block, I came to class fully prepared, having thoroughly read every page of our assigned text. This motivation for success first came from my eager attempt to impress the people around me. In the first days of the class, I felt like I didn’t belong with the rest of these students. So I decided, cliché as it might sound, that I had to fake it to make it. I may not have been fully equipped for this class, or have had the same experience as my older classmates, but it was the situation I found myself in. I had no choice but to go for it and hope that no one noticed my inner anxiety. After a couple days of what I thought was “faking it,” I realized I was doing it. I was eager to share my ideas and stopped fearing the judgment of my peers. I developed a real passion for reading literature, and I gained a confidence to share my voice in this new context. I had finally found a place: second floor of Armstrong. 

Though I reveled in this newfound self-expression, it still had not traveled outside of the brick walls of Armstrong. Two weeks ago, my friend told me to come with her to the first Cipher meeting of this semester. I tried to make an excuse that I had too much work and that I was too tired from the night before. She knew this was bullshit, and her condescending glare convinced me to go. Timid and uncertain, I followed her to the 7 p.m. rush hour at Worner.

At the end of the meeting, the Editor-in-Chief told us to talk to her if we had interest in writing for this issue. I had some ideas wandering around my head, but I was still uncertain. What would I write about? Would I? My friend however, had a different idea. She dragged me over to the Editor-in-Chief and gave me no choice but to volunteer to write for this month’s issue. I fumbled and said I would write about “the power of voice expressed in humor.”

I walked out of Worner that snowy Monday night and felt empowered. I felt as if I was finally walking in the direction I had been searching for throughout the last three semesters. 

When I returned to my room, I sat down on my bed. I organized my pillows so that I was perfectly comfortable and sitting upright. I took a sip of water to clear my throat. I opened a blank page on Microsoft Word. I realized that humor was not what I wanted to write about. It was this.