“If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”
We’ve all been asked this before, most likely while receiving a lecture from our parents for carrying out actions that deserve a closer look.
The question is purely hypothetical. Until it isn’t.
When I was in high school, I was presented with the opportunity to go to a nearby river with my friends — an infamous place I’d heard mentioned here and there.
After a hike through the woods and down active train tracks, we found ourselves on a 40-foot bridge tattooed with graffiti from high school generations past. Below us water flowed with the stories of the teenagers who came before us.
Was jumping risky? Of course. But so was being the only friend who didn’t jump.
I chose not to subject myself to ridicule, and I jumped.
The few seconds after my feet left the railing felt like an eternity. And then, my system was shocked by ice-cold water and the pull of the current on my arms and legs.
After my first year at Lehigh, the two closest friends I made transferred to schools across the country. When I heard the news that they were leaving me and the life we had set up for ourselves, I was reminded of that bitter shock to my system.
My immediate thought was that I should transfer, too. I didn’t necessarily want to switch universities, but if it was what my friends were doing, maybe I should also do it.
Was I happy at Lehigh? I wasn’t exactly sure. And now that my closest friends were no longer a part of the equation, the answer to that question seemed to lose all meaning.
Was I going to jump with my friends or not?
It’s easy to feel like everyone around you is having a better time than you are — especially when you only see the highlights on social media or when adults are constantly telling you about their college “glory days.”
At the end of my first year, I came to the conclusion that this chapter of my life would not be an absolute high point. And while I was okay with that, it wasn’t what I had hoped for myself. I loved the people I met, learned more than I ever had in one year and had a lot of good times.
But, again, was I happy? Not knowing the answer to that question seemed to be an answer in itself.
Although the thought didn’t occur to me much throughout that school year, in the few days after my friends told me they were leaving, I heavily considered transferring.
I didn’t have any of the logistics figured out. I didn’t even have a new school in mind. Frankly, that wasn’t the most important factor in my decision, even though it probably should’ve been.
What mattered most to me was that, with my friends gone, I would be left to figure things out on my own. That scared me more than the idea of switching to a new school and starting fresh.
When I braved that 40-foot leap on that summer day in high school, it was out of fear. I didn’t want to be left behind.
There’s no question that if I followed in the footsteps of my friends this time around, it would be for the same reason.
Once I realized my reliance on my friends was hurtling toward codependence and my moral guide was becoming dominated by fear, my mind was made up.
I chose not to transfer, which in many ways, was taking the hard way out. But I know I made the right decision.
To think those two friends would be the only ones I’d make or my mediocre freshman year set the standard for the rest of my time at Lehigh is amusing to me now. I look back and understand where my thinking was flawed.
Not even a full year later, I’m in a completely different place from where I was when I was struggling with this decision. My sophomore year came with new opportunities, new people and new memories, all of which I never saw coming.
I’m still unsure if I’ll look back at college and consider it a peak in my life’s trajectory. But for now, I know I made the right decision not to jump.