I heard their giggles echoing through the hallway of my dorm, even with my door shut. I sighed, hoping my roommate and her friends wouldn't come in.
I didn't really understand Erica. She was a real social butterfly, while I was a shy, straight-A student. When I was around her, I envied her ability to make friends so easily. And I couldn't figure out where she found time for relaxing and hanging out with friends, when all I had time for was homework.
She burst through the door with two of her friends, interrupting my thoughts. "Hey, Andrea, we're headed to the movies," she said, grabbing some CDs and a sweater. "Wanna come?"
I looked at the pile of books surrounding me at my desk. "Thanks, Erica, but I'd better not," I said. "I've got a lot of work to do, and if I go to the movies, I'll never get it done."
Her bright smile dimmed. "OK," she said quietly, then turned to leave.
Not what I expected
As Erica left, I felt a wave of loneliness pass over me. I couldn't think of a single person to talk to, though, and I felt my eyes tingling with tears. I knew I wouldn't be able to focus on my studies now, so I turned on a CD, climbed up on my bed and buried my head in my pillow, not bothering to fight the hot tears that ran down my cheeks.
God, this is not the way I thought college would be, I prayed silently. Back in high school, I'd always thought college would be kind of like something I'd seen on TV: I'd stay up late, laugh, eat lots of pizza and watch movies with friends.
In fact, looking forward to college was what really helped me get through high school. I figured all of my hard work there would be worth it—all the weekends of studying, all the hours spent trying to do things right—because someday I'd get into a top Christian college and eventually become a successful career woman.
I expected my social life to really take off once I got to college, too. During high school, youth group was pretty much all I did outside of school. I hadn't yet realized that making friends would require me to learn how to be a friend to others—and to be willing to spend time getting to know them and letting them know me.
I didn't expect to be stressed out over homework, or lonely and frustrated. Did I really have that much studying to do? Actually, I wasn't taking anything that difficult. It was my freshman year, and I was taking general requirement courses. But I was so determined to get perfect grades, I didn't allow myself time for much else.
"You always turn me down"
I was jolted from my weepy thoughts a couple of hours later when Erica got back from the movies. Embarrassed that I hadn't done any homework while she was away, I shut off my music and picked up a textbook.
Erica was unusually quiet as she sat on her bed across from mine, leafing through a magazine. "Erica, are you OK?" I asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, but the stiffness in her voice told me otherwise. I decided to try again.
"Really, what's wrong?"
She tilted her head and looked directly at me for the first time since she'd come back from the movies.
"Why don't you ever want to hang out with me? You always turn me down whenever I ask you to."
I was confused. Then I realized she wasn't complaining, just expressing the hurt she felt.
"I—I'm sorry, Erica," I stammered. "I've really wanted to get to know you and the other girls in the dorm, but I just have so much work to do."
As I said that, I realized that the other students didn't see me the way I saw myself—as dedicated to my studies and determined to be successful. To them, I seemed standoffish and unfriendly.
Sympathy replaced the hurt in Erica's voice. "Andrea, you won't be able to make friends—and you're definitely not going to have much fun—unless you make time for people," she said gently.
What she said made so much sense. There was no way I'd be able to enjoy a true college experience if I kept leaving meals early to get back to work. I wouldn't get to know people if I was always so focused on making A's that I couldn't even leave my room door open so hall mates would feel comfortable dropping by to chat.
More balance now
My conversation with Erica that day helped me to change the way I approached my life at college. It took me a long time to get over my need to have perfect grades. In fact, sometimes I'm still tempted to believe that my grades indicate my worth. But now, I have an accountability partner who prays with me about my academic perfectionism. I'm learning ways to make time for friendships and things not measurable on a report card. And I know now that God doesn't expect me to be perfect. I can do my best work and trust him with my future—including my career.
My life is busier now, but it's a lot more balanced! I started volunteering with the youth group at the church I attend when I'm away from home. I still study hard, but now I also know when it's time to take a break to catch a movie or sip a latte with the girls in my dorm.
Now I understand that I'll never be perfect—the perfect student, the perfect Christian, or the perfect friend. But 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds me that God can use me, despite my imperfections and weaknesses. He doesn't expect me to be perfect—so I shouldn't expect it, either.