Staying Soft Through the Hardening
“Sometimes, life has a way of making you hard, baby.” - My mama, C.R.M.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It felt as if my mom’s truck pulled up to the doors of my new home in slow motion. I was no longer the wide eyed freshman with wonder in her eyes and marvel at being a student at te Harvard University. What awaited me beyond the doors of my assigned upperclassman house was the identity of a second-year student who was supposed to have her concentration (Harvard term for major) decided and a clear idea of what her future was supposed to hold.
This is the year that you come into your own, find your voice and stand firm in your academic prowess. I can recall the many conversations I had with my older friends prior to the start of my sophomore year, where they all shared their glittery memories of new friendship, love and life. However, now that I am at the end of my sophomore year, I can say with much certainty that embarking on adulthood, and especially womanhood, is one of the hardest things you can do, and the transition from being a freshman to a sophomore only amplifies these growing pains.
At the start of the year, I was on top of the world in terms of my academics, social life, spirituality, and many other facets that made up my reality. I served in leadership positions in spaces that I cared about, I worked in positions that made me happy, and I was on the heels of a successful book release. I thought life couldn’t feel any rosier, and then I was invited to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Boston! I couldn’t believe that my work as a scholar, activist, and writer were not only being recognized on a consistent basis, but that my work was blossoming by proxy of my own personal growth. I breathed in every second of those moments, hoping that I’d never fall off the wave. I was convinced that nothing could or would steal my joy and sense of pride of the work I’d accomplished for myself.
It wasn’t until I was on the other side of the crumble that I realized how quickly things changed for me. Leadership stretched me in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Activism was met with more inequality, pain, and brutality. My voice as a Black woman was muffled by those who wanted me to fix some of the problems that existed on a campus, city, and national level, while simultaneously making room to resent me for doing so. I felt trapped in between who my family and friends knew me to be prior to college and who I wanted to be as an Afro-Caribbean woman who had pushed herself toward success at Harvard. Poetry didn’t come as easily to me, and selling my chapbook, Cotton, fell down on my list of priorities. My classes were inconceivably difficult to juggle. Adjusting to life in my new upperclassman house tasted foreign. The reduction in support I received as a sophomore compared to when I was a freshman was palpable. I couldn’t feel Christ as intensely as I had always felt Him.
My life did an entire backflip, and I didn’t know where to begin to pick up the pieces. My mother used to always tell me that life could make you hard and I didn’t understand what she meant until I had to.
For many college students, middle aged workers and older souls who bust their butts to get to where they are, this undoing is paralyzingly scary and unexpected. What do you do when your life seems to come apart at the seams? What happens when it seems like there’s no one else who understands it? Who can validate you when your anger, frustrations, and pains are valid? What do you do when life seems easier when you stop caring or “check out”? What should you do when your problems seem easier to tackle when you detach?
You stay soft.
This may seem like the exact opposite of what you’d expect, but you have to grab hold of life by the horns and remain malleable to the experience. The real growth and elevation in self and life comes in the ugliness and pain of growth. My best friend, Lex, said the most profound thing to me: “Growth isn’t fun. It’s not easy. But it’s worthwhile.” I am my own first home, and by honoring the good, bad, and genuinely unpleasant parts of walking into womanhood, I am allowing myself to be sensitive to the best version of myself.
It is my hope that this piece serves as the first steps to your peace, joy, and radical healing. Take this with you as you journey: stay soft through the hardening, no matter what form it may take.