When I was in high school, college wasn’t even on my radar. I despised having to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day and couldn’t bring myself to “participate” in anything that meant I would have to spend even more time there. My grades were good, but I had no interest in clubs. I had joined the cross country team senior year to prove to myself that I could do it, but that was it for activities in school. Outside of school, I was an artist; I loved to read books and attempted to write some of my own. I listened to music, taught myself Spanish up to a decent intermediate level, and rode horses for 5 years where I competed in regional shows and won awards.
Throughout middle and high school, I struggled immensely with my mental and physical health. Just making it through the day was difficult enough for me, and I didn’t have the energy to plan for my future because I found it so overwhelming. I’m also someone who has a broad variety of interests. In being a multi-passionate person I knew that I couldn’t “just pick one thing.” One major, one career, one choice for the rest of my life that I’m stuck with? It was too terrifying to even consider.
My only goal was to move out of my parent’s house and “be independent” so that I could feel a sense of freedom and autonomy. I was so eager to get out of my hometown and see “the real world.” Plot twist: you need money and a stable living situation for all of that to actually happen! I had heard the advice, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” So I began to think about what I loved doing, what I was good at, and how I could make a career out of it. However, I am a firm believer that you should not monetize all of your hobbies, to prevent them from becoming “work” and no longer fun for you.
It was my decision and drive to create a beautiful life for myself that drove me to apply to college. So I applied to Warren Wilson College, a tiny private liberal arts college notorious for being “a school for misfits” and a work college where everyone has a job that goes toward paying your tuition. They’re known for being hands-on and outdoorsy, a “farm school” and a safe haven for the queer community. I applied in January at the very last minute and found out on March 1st that I was accepted when the packet came in the mail.
A big scary thought that held me back from pursuing college was that I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I was worried that I would be wasting time and a great deal of money if I went to college and still couldn’t figure it out. However, I know now that sometimes it takes enrolling in a school, whether that's a community college or a 4-year college in order to be exposed to all of the options out there and find something that sparks your interest.
It was through going to college that I made a friend who I was able to go home with for Thanksgiving. Upon confiding in this friend’s mom about my predicament with uncertainty and the pressure to choose my future career path, I was given advice that I will remember for the rest of my life. “You don’t have to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, you just have to figure out what you’re going to do next.” That stuck with me, fundamentally changing my perspective and taking an enormous weight off my shoulders to “pick the perfect path” for myself. After speaking with her, I began to imagine what my life could look like if I didn’t have to choose just one thing. I could view my life in short segments of chapters, one leading into the next and ever-evolving instead of one single story set in stone. Maybe I wouldn’t have to sacrifice and settle for “either or,” forever wondering what things would have been like if I had chosen another path. Maybe I could incorporate more than one career interest into my professional life and still succeed. This leads me back to my “why” my guiding light for being a part of AppCAC. I advise because I want to be a support system for young people navigating the next chapter of their lives, so that they know they have agency over how their story goes. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t apply that same perspective to myself! I have agency over how my story goes and I can change my direction at any time.
My conversation with my friend's mom and my overall experience at Warren Wilson encouraged me to try everything and not view changing my mind as a mistake or a waste of time. I came in as a Fine Arts major, discovered Anthropology and thought it was cool, switched to Global Studies and Spanish, and finally landed upon a major in Social Work with a minor in Expressive Arts Therapy. All of these experiences were stepping stones along my path, making me the person I am today, just as my current position with Appalachian College Advising Corps is an opportunity for growth and capacity-building to launch me into my next adventure.
It has been an honor to serve my home community and support the youth in the high school I graduated from as they decide what comes next for them. I want more people to realize that there is no shame in changing your mind and that you do not have to have all of the answers, because you will find them along the way. Never let the fear of starting keep you from beginning the journey, and never let setbacks keep you from moving forward. I think it’s important to define what success means for you, even if it is unconventional.
My future dream is to build a tiny house for myself and operate a small regenerative farm where I can provide accessible food to my community. I plan to attend graduate school in the future so that I can obtain my master’s and then my clinical license in order to become my own boss with a private therapy practice. I would like to become fluent in Spanish and expand my artistic endeavors. The core of what I want to do is support people and provide them with the resources they need in order to provide for themselves. I believe that learning never ends, and with the degree I have, there are so many doors open for me. I can work in a variety of settings with different populations and go in a different direction whenever I decide to, all within the same field. Education has given me the freedom to realize that I have options and that I am never stuck in my situation, which is something every high school student deserves to hear.
Written by Milena Buchanan, adviser at Erwin High School