During my freshman year in college, I learned a valuable lesson of courage that didn’t concern many of my American peers. I was on a route to be happy. They wanted to do thee right thing by getting a college degree. The pressure to go to the best college was intense. After all, I was attending the FAME, “I-wanna-live-forever” high school and was already the top 10% of my graduating class.
I applied to all the right schools – ten in all, scrambling to find the money to pay for these exorbitant college application fees, completely convinced that what I was doing would make me happy. In retrospect, I was so fixated on doing the right thing that it soon became pretty obvious that the “right” thing was going to college like everybody Else. The question was… would it make me happy?
I was on a mission to prove to my non AP (Advanced Placement) teachers and AP students that I was worthy of studying on a higher level and getting good grades to show for it. After all, I was at the FAME school which boasted of a long reign of celebrities, musical prodigies and actors. I didn’t want to be any less. I couldn’t afford to be any less.
You see, my grades in English specifically, weren’t exactly very high. I got lots of red-marks on my papers in junior high, and that feeling that I’m quite enough, carried me throughout high school.
So I audited an AP English class just to prove that I could succeed at an academic challenge.
I was not into writing essays, but under Dr. P. Reisch’s guidance, I was able to take my writing to the next level, but it wasn’t enough to get a 3 on the AP English exam.
Seriously, I thought there was something terribly wrong with me. Did I need a brain transplant? Was a too much of a creative spirit?
Like a stubborn mule who just took a beating, I went ahead with more red marks and 8 negative acceptance letters and decided that I’d study at SUNY at Albany – a mediocre school that attracted a different population – largely a student body from Long Island.
While I settled for a mediocre school, there was still a part of me that new I had settled on a life goal that may not make me happy. If I studied at Suny at Albany for four years then I would probably have to study for another 4 years for a Masters. I was a young 17 year old. I had no idea what I wanted even while my suitemates at college were declaring Pre-med and law. I was still that free creative spirit at heart who wanted to write poetry, sing and roam unrestrictedly in nature. I put my happiness on hiatus for more than 2 years. Two years too long.
The Courage to Be Happy
When I volunteered on my aunt’s kibbutz in the north in the summer of 1989, I felt the doors were opening for me. Here I was doing something different than working at a summer job or taking college classes. It was good to know there was an alternative and I didn’t have to be stuck thinking I could just do the college thing to make me happy.
The “deal” couldn’t have come at a better time. My parents were leaving the States to be in Israel and escape my fearful Mom. I could either stay in the States and continue studying a major I no longer wanted, or go with them. I only knew Israel from my youth, but not as a adolescent. Since I was already terribly unhappy, how much worse could it be?
In retrospect, I was telling myself, you have the courage to be happy. You’re exploring something else. Isn’t life about exploring different options and finding out what’s a good fit and what’s not? Only I was burnt-out from college and take a “salad-bar” of different academic courses. I steered away from academic commitment – deeply afraid from gathering any more C+ and D that reminded me of those painful high school days that didn’t want to go away.
In fact, I was slated to join the Israel Defense Forces – an extreme life option that would allow me to eschew fear in the form of my fearful mother who was so deeply afraid of Israel — once and for all.
On that two and a half year journey, I learned how to stay the path of courage even when I was bullied by other immigrants and tried to cope with a foreign mentality.
That is the journey I explore in my memoir Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces, the first memoir of the female experience, which you can pre-order now.
Have you been happy with your job, family, personal life choices? What has gotten in the way if anything?
The pressure for high school students to attend college is intense – much more than when I was a freshman back in 1988. I can’t imagine what it’s like now to study as a Freshman(maybe I should do a series of interviews to get insights?)
Dorit Sasson was born in New York City and immigrated to Israel at age nineteen. She holds an MA in English Literature from Haifa University and teaches memoir writing workshops at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. She writes for a wide range of print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, and The Writer, and speaks at conferences, libraries, and community centers. She is the author of a featured chapter in Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time and the host of the global radio show Giving Voice to Your Story. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA, with her husband and two children. Dorit Sasson’s “Accidental Soldier” is a crowdfunding opp on @pubslush http://t.co/Pi3U5hmEwY Cool memoir of being an Israeli soldier.