I am a hypocrite.

I think of myself as someone who thrives on encouragement and self-motivation. Basically, that means I really like quote-of-the-day emails. I also enjoy those pictures of nature with inspirational phrases Photoshopped onto them – and not in an ironic way, either.

At the same time, I often find myself in ruts. I get petulant and pessimistic and short-sighted. But it’s odd how, in looking back at those times, I don’t see them through a haze of “this was bad.”

Usually, as trite as this may sound, what I see is what I learned.

I grew up high-strung and difficult, with a whole lot of feelings and a lack of restraint. By the time I packed my bags and moved to the mountains at eighteen, my mother’s copy of The Strong-Willed Child was as worn as her patience.

I spent my childhood raging against rules and expectations. I threw myself on the floor in the middle of grocery stores, I slammed my door so hard I couldn’t get it back open, I lost my voice screaming. I absolutely loathed discipline.

And yet, looking back, I can’t imagine I’d be the person I am today if my parents hadn’t set a standard and held me to it. So many of the things I value – hard work, strength, positivity, compassion  – started out as things my parents expected from me.

I will never understand why people go to school and pay tuition to become middle-grades teachers. I mean, more power to them, but I can’t imagine actually paying someone to spend more time in middle school. The years from sixth to eighth grade were undoubtedly the worst of my life.

I’ve never been adept in social situations, and I’ve always been – as I mentioned before – more than a little sassy. In middle and high school, I’m sure that translated as obnoxious, annoying or rude. The blech of middle school life was compounded by my then-undiagnosed ADD and the insecurity that settles on all of our shoulders around the age of 11. I was a flailing, underachieving mess, and my classmates weren’t kind.

But I made it through, and I wouldn’t trade any of my pre-teen hardships for a character unrefined by trials which, at the time, seemed unendurable. Because I did endure, and enduring made me stronger and kinder and better.

Going to college in a town I’d never been to, on a campus I’d visited once, where I knew no one  – that was terrifying. My memories of orientation are clouded by the anxiety that gnawed on me that day, whispering in my ear that I’d never have meaningful experiences in this new place, that I wouldn’t make a life there. Until December, I questioned my decisions and my sanity. Why was I here again? Because Clemson didn’t accept me? I could’ve stayed home and gone to Carolina. Bigger journalism program, lower tuition, high school friends. It would’ve been so easy.

And then something changed. It’s like I opened my eyes and saw the way the clouds hang over the Appalachians in the morning, noticed the way people are constantly smiling in Boone because it’s just such a good place, started soaking in the learning and culture and newness that was available to me.

Today, I have never felt more at home than I do on the campus of Appalachian State University. It’s something I was looking for my entire life without realizing it.

There are so many days that I have counted down and wished away. There are so many times in my life that I didn’t want, because they weren’t simple or easy or good at first.

But the more I look back, the more I realize that I am grateful for all of it.

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