A Look Back

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The summer after I graduated high school, at 18-years-old.

How do you explain the last four-and-a-half to five years that have changed your life?

How do I put all of the awkward moments, doubts, heart-to-heart conversations, sleeping in, late nights at the paper, countless interviews, mountains of papers and articles to write week after week, crushes, dating, misunderstandings, heartbreak, disappointment, lunch gatherings, concerts, random adventures, doubts, insecurities, real life experiences, divine encounters, dreaming of the future and the jumble of chaos that was constantly going on in my mind into words? My dreams have literally been coming true right before my eyes, but it has taken awhile to see it, and I know I still have a bit to go. People say that high school is the best four years of your life. I think they’re wrong. College has been the absolute best chapter of my life thus far, even when I absolutely hated it and didn’t think it was worth it to go on. It was because of those questions and all of the what-ifs, could’ve beens and all that did happen when I kept going, that made me who I am today. It also went a little longer than four years, but hey, who’s counting? This is the thick of where you find out who you are, and where you meet the people who are going to be in your life forever. They’re the ones who hung around you before you made it big, and loved you even when your work wasn’t up to par, but encouraged you to be the absolute best that you could be. I remember graduating from high school, with big dreams and grand plans for how I thought life after those four walls were supposed to go. I immediately thought I would end up in Nashville, simply because that was what I wanted and felt called to. Boy, did I have a lot of growing up to do in that department. I had only wanted to go to Belmont University, and if that wasn’t happening, then what was the point of it all. I had started slacking off a little my senior year of high school and my parents weren’t about to send me to CSUB when I wasn’t giving it my all and didn’t really care. So, I ended up at Taft Community College, just on the outskirts of Bakersfield. At the time, I’ll admit I was so annoyed. Here I was going to a community college, while most of my friends were either at the university or the other community college across town. I only knew about three people who were going to Taft, and none of them had classes with me. I was really on my own. It felt like I was starting over. I was in unfamiliar town, where I didn’t know the students or teachers and I quickly learned that I was going to like college. It pushed me to gain my independence, because suddenly my mom couldn’t just make all of the phone calls for me or write my teacher a note if there was an issue. It was up to me to schedule my classes, talk to my advisers by myself and ask questions if there was something I was confused about. If I wanted something, I was really going to have to work hard to make it happen. This wasn’t a place where everyone knew my name or knew what I was capable of. I was starting over and had to let them know who I was. This was the first time in awhile that I had been out of my safety net, and suddenly, unless I wanted to be a loner, it made me put myself out there and start talking to people. I met many wonderful people out there, and some I even carpooled with. Everyone I met was part of this trek to find out who I was, away from everything I had known. I started listening to different music, watching different shows and branching out in so many ways. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had time to really live. Sure, I was still going to school, but it gave me a chance to work it into other things that I enjoyed, such as trips to LA for an American Idol taping or some other event that might have been taking place. Those three years at Taft were often discouraging, because I was finally in college, but I was back to doing the exact work that I hated in high school – math and all of the other general classes that I was so over. I was ready to start focusing on my career, but here I was stuck, while everyone else I knew was having adventures out of state. I started going through some spouts of loneliness; missing my friends, wondering where I was going or whether any of the schooling and carving out time for journalism would be worth it.

It was also at that time that I started going to the young adults group at my church again, which absolutely transformed my life in a way that only God could have done. My friend, Viviyan, and I started going together. We then met a group of girls, who like us were all starting new phases in their lives and going through challenging times. Over the course of the next few months, we’d go out for coffee, take spontaneous trips to the beach, hang out at Bible study and other church gatherings and constantly had group texts chatting about anything and everything. We were always together. In those short months that we were together, I learned so much about myself, but more importantly, God and what He thought about me. I stopped believing the lies about myself and started believing that I really was beautifully and wonderfully made. It gave me this new confidence that I’d never had before. Suddenly, all of the guilt and crap that had happened in the past didn’t matter anymore. I was starting fresh! Being around Christ-like women rubbed off on me. It helped me develop more patience, kindness and a loving spirit. Those were some of the most fun times I had ever had, and the first times that I really felt like myself. Gaining my independence was just the beginning of it all.

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I continued going to school in Taft, getting involved at church and that did wonders for me. That’s when I felt the most alive. I could feel God and hear Him on a regular basis. I was moving forward and not looking back. Eventually in 2013, I graduated from Taft with my AA in Liberal Arts/Communications. Phase one was over and I was sad, but I knew it was time to move on. I’d never been more ready to tackle new challenges and focus on writing and journalism, which would bring me one step closer to my dreams. That was the best summer of my life! I met people I admire, I got to spend time with friends and family, I had time to write and daydream, reevaluate my life and live. When fall rolled around and it was time to start CSUB, I had never been more excited, anxious or ready.

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First day of school in 2013.

And then I got to CSUB…There was no way I could have prepared for the roller coaster ride of emotions that the last two years have brought me, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. So much in my life has changed that, most of the time, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been longer. CSUB is truly where I found myself, my voice and my style. I feel like it’s where the real ‘journey’ began. It’s where I found what I’m passionate about and learned to keep going. There were a dozen times I just wanted to quit. I didn’t think I was cut out to be a journalist. I’ve always been the shyest kid in class from elementary school, and I’m probably one of the most quiet students to this day. So, how was a girl like me supposed to make phone calls and interview people for stories? That took a lot of baby steps; sending out emails, a shaky voice through the cell phone receiver and a lot of red marks back on my papers. But, I came back fighting harder each and every time, because this was not a race I came to lose. There were a lot of tears shed, a lot of frustration, a lot of staring at the ceiling and thinking as I drifted off to sleep or in a panic, hoping I hadn’t screwed something up, when I woke up in the morning. Everyone always tells you things like ‘it’ll be fine’ or ‘it’ll work itself out, stop worrying so much.’ There’s a reason for that. It’s true! I guess like most things in life, you don’t know that until you’ve made it to the other side and know that for a fact for yourself.

But, I can’t stress enough how much good came out of those crappy moments or the times that I struggled, and I know now that it was part of God’s plan all along. He had me every step of the way. Every person I met, every interview that fell through, every let down and every bump in the road was still part of the path that I was meant to take. I’ve learned a million lessons (that I will probably narrow down to at least 10 and include in another post), and I just can’t get over how the Lord has used me and helped me to grow from that shy, terrified 18-year-old dreamer who had ideas and visions, but didn’t quite know how to put them into action. I’ve come a long way to the 23-year-old I am at this moment, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t put my faith and trust in God. I can handle a lot more than I ever thought I could and stepped into some leadership qualities that I never thought I had. I learned how to work with people, how to speak up, how to be open and honest, how to be open to adventure and to let myself truly be happy.

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After my first week of classes was over, I wrote this on my blog at the time:

“It’s time to get down to business and to stop coasting, like it’s a far off dream that will happen someday. Because someday is now…And it’s happening.

That statement could not be more true than it is right now. I’ve been able to do so much in such a short amount of time and I’m excited to see what happens next. This is just the beginning of what God has in store for me, I just know it. Sometimes you’re going to have moments where you feel stuck, but in the midst of that comes vision and clarity, and when you go through those spells, you come out of it with a whole new perspective.

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Now, I guess it’s time to start looking forward to that next adventure. I have one more day of college left, with just one more documentary project to show and one more final in computers and society (yikes), but then that’s it. Everything I’ve done for the past two years is coming down to this. I’ve never felt more confident, excited and hopeful or nervous, shaky and terrified in my life. But, ready or not…Here it is!

That’s all for now,

Shelby

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