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Small Midwestern Liberal Arts College Insecurities
January 27th, 2010

It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Ivy League Insecurities, does it?  But it’s where my head is lately. 

Several months ago my parents and sister were in town for a weekend visit.  One evening we spent a couple of hours nibbling on hors d’oeuvres and sipping cocktails in the lobby lounge of my parents’ hotel.  Between talk of holiday plans and IEP’s latest party tricks, the conversation drifted to our collegiate alma maters.

Mom and Dad both attended state universities.  So did my sister.  GAP and I attended the same teensy-weensy liberal arts college here in the Midwest.  And, for the most part, we all had highly successful experiences in undergrad.  We learned academic lessons and life lessons.  We each experienced fun and failure in its various forms.  And we emerged into the “real world” as adults capable of providing for ourselves.  Mission accomplished. 

Almost everyone else in the discussion felt good about their school selection in retrospect.  But I have always had something of an inferiority complex about my alma mater, which is not something that I’m proud of.  It’s a school that is moderately well-known in this part of the country.  People who have heard of it generally think it to be a good school.  It is known for professors who care deeply about their students and spend more time teaching than researching; for an active and devoted alumnae community; and for a student body of reasonably intelligent upper middle class kids from a roughly 5-state radius. 

As for my experience there… Well, I loved it.  I loved every moment I spent on that campus.  I was an extra-curricular super girl.  I was involved in the Greek system and student government.  I sang in choirs and led a Bible study.  I was the upper-class mentor to a group of 15 freshmen and a resident advisor in a women’s dorm.  I rarely missed a class and made good grades.  To put in plainly, I flourished in college.

To look at my life today, I am hard pressed to find any aspect of my life that has suffered at the hand of my alma mater.  I met my husband there.  I made some wonderful friends there.  My first two jobs were landed with help from a fellow alumnus.  And today I’m in a challenging and rewarding career that suits my interests and talents. 

So why on earth does it matter to me now how much name recognition my college has? 

I should count my blessings that it was a wonderful experience that I remember fondly.  I should appreciate the connections it afforded me.  I should be grateful that GAP and I crossed paths there so many years ago.  And I do all those things.  But secretly, in my heart of hearts, I wish they’d all happened at a school with a national reputation. 

If that were the case, though, how different would my life actually be?  Vastly different?  Probably not.  I might have matured in slightly different ways; shaped by a different location and a different set of experiences.  But those differences wouldn’t necessarily be for the better.  Sure I might be bolder or more assertive.  But I might also be less confident and self-possessed.  No matter the subtle variances that may have manifested themselves in me, I am still me, not someone else.  The way that I approach life, people, and decisions is uniquely mine, and would not change substantially based on four post-adolescent years.    

This “what if” game doesn’t really accomplish anything.  Quite frankly, I’m likely wasting time wondering when I could be out doing something purposeful.  The fact of the matter is that I made my choice and it has served me well.  I will never know how my story might have unfolded if I’d made a different decision.  So why, oh why, does this little insecurity plague me? 

I suppose we all have insecurities about little things that buzz around in our minds.  We all think about the path not taken; risks not taken; chances not taken.  We wonder where we might be today if we’d picked door #2 instead of door #3.  Might we have found fame and fortune?  Perhaps.  Would we have found happiness?  Who knows?  At least for me, I always think about these scenarios with the assumption that the path not taken would have resulted in something better.  But I’m probably remiss in that assumption.  My life today is pretty great.  And while I’d be a fool to wish away anything that I have, that little “what if” helps me remember to constantly strive to make more out of my life.

7 Responses to “Small Midwestern Liberal Arts College Insecurities”

  1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I love this post because it is honest and heartfelt. Here you are, admitting that your present life is great, but that you are still plagued by insecurities about paths not taken. This is life. Insecurities are not defects we should camouflage, but personal and universal aspects of self we should acknowledge and explore. And here you are – doing just that.

    I applaud you for putting into words what all of us – no matter where we spent our collegiate years – feel.

    (And from your attitude and writing alone, it is patently clear that your itty-bitty school served you very very well.)

  2. Anne Says:

    Very honest and interesting post. My college selection process was odd–and unfolded very different than most of the people around me expected it would. And I wouldn’t change it for one second. I think it’s so easy to wonder about what might have been, but I think it’s wonderful how you can see that certain decisions fit us at one point in time, and we have to believe we made the right decision for us…given the context.

  3. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    As a former prep school teacher and the wife of a professor at a “Small Midwestern Liberal Arts College,” I think about these issues all the time. I share a college alma mater with Aidan, but, as I used to tell my students whose lives had been taken over by the college hunt, I don’t think my life would have been much different had I gone to a school with a different reputation. In fact, I often lament that I didn’t go to a smaller school where there was a greater emphasis on teaching rather than on research. As your post so eloquently points out, it is in our nature as humans to ask “what if?” even if we find ourselves in a happy and fulfilled place.

  4. Nicki Says:

    I chose a small, technical school for two years and then a large, public university in another state for three years. I loved the experiences which were totally different. I loved learning and still toy with a third degree.

    I have watched as five of my children have started college. The first four all started at small, private colleges/universities. Two of them moved after a semester or two. The fifth started a state school. All have thrived at their respective choices.

    I do sometimes wonder if things would be different for me, for friends, for my children if different paths had been taken. BUT, I love the path I have at the moment.

  5. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    My father insisted that I attend a public, in-state University (or else pay for it myself). At the time, I thought that was a cruel, cruel deal.

    However, hubs and I have decided to do the same thing with our kids, because so many kids end up attending graduate school nowadays that things can get astronomical.

  6. becca Says:

    This really struck a chord with me. I also feel very insecure about where I went to school. I know I’d choose differently even if I chose from the schools I was accepted to, if I did it over today. I hate when people ask me where I went to school because I feel like they judge me when I tell them. I went to a much “better” school for my MBA but still not Top Tier and when I landed jobs at blue chip companies where all of my peers attended top 5 Business schools and Ivy undergrad schools, I again felt insecure. It shouldn’t matter I keep telling myself. I’m successful, I’m happy, I’m intelligent… but it does matter. I continue to work through it and try to care less but for some reason, it eats at me. I always feel like I have to “prove myself” after I tell someone where I went to school. Ridiculous, but true.
    Great post!

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