In late August, I arrived at Buffalo Niagara International Airport with three luggage-filled bags and loads of anticipation.
But, just three hours after landing from the U.K. as an international student, I found that I couldn’t stop myself from crying.
As my chest heaved and my eyes reddened, all I could think about was just how pathetic I was.
My big Mrs. Worldwide adventure to the US of A felt so wrong.
I laid on the floor — my half-opened suitcases strewn across my apartment — and just felt empty.
All week, my family and friends had been hyping me up and helping me every way they could. My parents wouldn’t stop saying, “Buffalo won’t know what’s hit it!” as my Grandad would chime in, “Our Soph’s gonna make it big!”
They couldn’t have been more wonderful, but all I could do was feign a smile.
Because here’s the thing: I was genuinely excited to come to the states.
I really was.
Eight-year-old me didn’t belt Miley’s “Party in the USA” for nothing. This was my main character moment, and I couldn’t be more excited to smash it out the park and live my reverse Poppy Moore fantasy.
But none of that seemed to matter.
My Mum was a whole world away when she called me that night. My words stitched themselves together and fell back apart, as my racing mind and shaky breath tried to articulate any of what I was feeling to her. We put the world to rights in just 40 minutes, before my screen and I glared at each other: “U.K. time: 3:20 a.m.”
I couldn’t keep her up any longer; I’d already done enough damage.
“Night night, I love you,” we both said, before the phone clicked off. I tried my best to sleep, but just couldn’t seem to fight the knot I had in my stomach.
The words ricocheted across my skull. My head spun over and over until I felt motion sick.
Why was I abandoning the people that gave everything to me? Why was I putting my needs before theirs? The 3,400 miles isn’t going to make it easy on any of them, Sophie, you know that.
Suddenly everything I’d ever done felt intrinsically self-absorbed. My parents and family have given their all for me and my sister, and my friends have been an unshakeable support network of laughs and hugs all the way back to the first time I grazed my knee in the playground.
I felt helpless and torn. All of a sudden going after everything I’d worked so hard for, and having what could be one of the best experiences of my life at UB, felt criminal. My lungs filled all the way up as I held my breath and hovered over the “Return Flight” button. Even as I’m writing this I can feel that same feeling bubbling up in my chest.
I’d always dealt with feelings like this. The guilt feels like a guest at a hotel, checking in every now and then. I felt that way when I decided to transfer universities because I was really unhappy, but the guilt of leaving my friends almost made me stay. Or when I tried to keep a friendship that ran its course, because I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.
The bottom line is, nobody’s going to chase your dreams for you. You can’t accommodate other people at the expense of yourself, and if you do, you wouldn’t even have your full self to give to them anymore. This is your life! And there’s never any shame in prioritizing you.
Think about it this way: would you ever tell your friend to not go after that dream job? Or be angry when your sister told you she’d finally made her big break and wants to move to the big city?
Be patient with yourself, and know that putting yourself first doesn’t devalue how much you care for those around you.
I’ve now been in America for six weeks, and I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve found my stride and it’s only going to keep going up from here. For the first time, I can actually smile at the fact that I’ve chosen myself. If I hadn’t, I would never have met my amazing new friends or made memories that will always make me smile. I would have given up what’s making out to be one of the best years of my life.
So how can you put your happiness first?
Catch that train to a new city. Apply for that internship you’ve always wanted. Leave that relationship that’s been bringing you down. Grab coffee with that girl you smiled at on the street.
Do whatever you damn-well want.
Oh, and never forget to dance your heart out while you do it.
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