It started with a tweet.
“Good morning girls and gays,” wrote @ehjovan at 11:38 a.m. on 8/18/18. I was at least one of those things. I kept reading.
“today we do whatever we want… let’s risk it all for attention… god might not remember us but men will never forget.”
Those 260 characters or less spoke to something deep within my soul. I read the tweet over and over, unable to scroll past it. Let’s risk it all for attention…
This was back in August, a week before the start of the year. I was generally pumped to return to Kenyon, but I was nervous, too. I’d heard of the “Sophomore Slump,” the funk some sophomores find themselves in as their freshman-year friendships shift and the novelty of NCA parties wears off, and I was also worried that social anxiety would get the best of me, as it had my freshman year.
Kenyon’s social environment is a closed-system ecosphere, where everyone knows everyone and you can’t escape anyone and surreal social interactions grow on trees. It’s easy to feel like you’re trapped in a sitcom, and not even a good one–– Season 1 Parks & Recreation, at best. And if you have social anxiety, always being surrounded by people you know and maybe don’t feel entirely comfortable with creates a lot of self-consciousness and becomes exhausting.
It took me most of freshman year to figure out how to cope with that. But coping with something isn’t the same thing as moving past it, and social anxiety still held me back. Going into sophomore year, I wanted to do more than just cope. I wanted to thrive.
I wanted to flex on my anxiety.
Risk it all for attention, @ehjovan had said. I knew what I had to do. With the goal of moving past social anxiety and making the absolute most of my sophomore year, I issued a challenge to myself: Be as extra as possible, at all times.
Being extra may be loosely defined as showing off, “doing the most,” or saying “fuck you” to the proverbial haters. The song “Fergalicious” encapsulates the spirit of being extra, as do YouTubers, Cardi B, and musical theater in general. To put it into practice, though, it’s something everyone has to define for themselves.
For my challenge, I set two rules. One, If I got an idea to do something, and the only thing stopping me was fear of failure and/or embarrassment, I had to do it. I literally just had to. And two, go big or go home. Every single day.
I wanted to do theater, so I auditioned for everything I could, even though auditions turn me into a nervous, insecure wreck. I didn’t get into the vast majority of shows I auditioned for, but I don’t regret going out for a single thing (except for The Company, that was humiliating.) Because I wasn’t cast in acting roles, I went after other areas that interested me, namely costume and prop design. And I loved them. And I’m good at them! And they opened up the door to far more opportunities.
I also asked to work on things, like openly, explicitly asked for things I wanted, which was a total game-changer. It turns out people won’t think you’re selfish or stupid or kidding yourself for wanting to be apart of something. (Unless that thing is The Company, which was, again, humiliating.)
Another thing I wanted to do this year? Dress up more. I love fashion and clothing and always have, but walking through New Side in a taxi-yellow pleather mini dress and 4-inch rainbow platform sneakers is bold, even for me. Last year, I was far too self-conscious to do such a thing, which is precisely why I came into this year determined to do it.
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that a true fashion flex has a transformative effect on my self esteem. Taking the time to curate a capital-L Look and show it off is something tangible and concrete that I can do to feel good about myself. Dressing up is a form of self-care for me, and the importance of prioritizing self-care in college cannot be undersold.
And now it is time to be very honest: One of the greatest causes of my social anxiety, and therefore a major target of the Sophomore Flex, is sex and relationships. At Kenyon, it can be rough–– small pool, lots of overlap, the one person you’re trying to avoid always being exactly where you least want to see them. Putting yourself out there with someone feels very high-stakes when you know you’ll probably run into them in the servery every day for the next few years.
But being extra is about embracing the stakes. So I tried very hard not to let fear of failure or embarrassment stop me from shooting my shot, setting standards for how I deserve to be treated, and being honest about what I want.
I was upfront with people–– another game-changer. I sent bold Google Calendar invites, and sent some other bold things, too. I gave a PowerPoint presentation to a boy I was hooking up with, explaining my feelings, how he’d hurt them, and how I thought we could move forward. I was scared he would think it was too weird and too much, but I didn’t let that stop me from doing it.
Did things work out between us? Not even a little bit. Did he love the PowerPoint? You bet he did. Is that boy now the literal editor of this article? Of course he is, like I said, this place is a sitcom. But I didn’t let that stop me from writing this, either. Absurd social situations are unavoidable at Kenyon, so we might as well hold our heads high and learn to laugh at them.
As the year comes to an end and I officially conclude my Sophomore Flex, I feel genuinely proud of the things I’ve done this year in spite of my anxiety. My confidence has grown significantly, and I’ve discovered a lot about myself, what I want, and what makes me happy. Though there were many times when I did fail and did embarrass myself, with each one I got better at picking myself up, brushing myself off, and preparing to flex again.
This year has taught me the importance of being extra, whatever being extra means to you. To the girls and gays of Kenyon, I say: Risk it all. Do what you want. And be proud of yourself. This place is small, but there’s always room for a flex.