This January, I made a decision that will inevitably affect my life in a significant way, whether the decision succeeds or fails: I will be applying early to college this year as a junior. I’ve met criticism and support and everything in between in the last few months as people from my school began to find out. I got everything from “I’m glad she’s leaving so I have a better class rank” to “this grade won’t be the same without you!”. Mostly, though, people asked why I was making such a radical, crazy decision to leave high school a year early. I never understood what was so radical about my decision; after all, it’s one year of high school in a lifetime. In the long run, I don’t think missing my senior year is going to give me PTSD or cause me to be socially behind all my peers and colleagues forever. In fact, I think leaving early is the best thing for me on my spiritual and academic path in life. Through college, I will experience the growth that I need that isn’t possible where I am in high school. I’m not a prodigy or a super genius; I’m just at a place in my life where moving on from my current environment is the best thing for me to be happy and able to develop and mature and evolve. Our American culture is very set on parameters, regulations, and a cookie-cutter mentality, especially in child-raising and education. There is an overwhelming expectation that everyone has the same intellectual and emotional needs at the same time. We have innumerable systems in place to make sure that everyone passes through the same checkpoints at the same ages, and God forbid someone be at a different place, whether ahead or behind the system. Truthfully, I understand it; it’s too difficult to coordinate an educational system in which everyone is moving through the grades to college or work at different times and at different ages. If that were the case, there would be tons of kids who tried to get to college or a job way earlier than they are ready, because they are bored, fed up, trying to get away from someone, etc. There is reason for making a standardized age for milestones and grade levels. However, that doesn’t mean we all have to subscribe to cookie-cutter way society approaches life. The only way to get out of the system is, really, to ask for it. You’d be amazed at what you will be given if you simply ask with a smile and a mature, sensible reason. We are all our own personal advocates for our growth, and it’s our own responsibility to ourselves to nurture and maximize this growth, whether that means entering new relationships, moving to different environments, or surpassing certain milestones before or after the traditional date. In The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck (practically my own bible), there is one quote that has stuck with me and guided most of my important decisions since the day I read it: “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Think about it for a moment in a personal sense (an interpersonal interpretation is also key to life, but it’s a whole other blog entry and hours of thinking). Loving yourself means extending yourself for your own spiritual growth. I love myself, and therefore I give myself the ability to grow. I am leaving for college early because I try to love myself, and therefore I am trying to maximize my potential to grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I put a lot of thought into the decision and decided it would accomplish this end. If you feel that you are in a growth rut, or struggle to love yourself, think about it this way: what can you do to help yourself grow as a human being? Since we are all connected, this question often goes hand in hand with: what can I do to help others and the world grow in a positive direction? This might mean leaving a relationship that has stagnated or starting a new one with someone who can nurture your growth. It might mean packing up and traveling Europe because you’ve always felt a tug for travel and a new experience on the other side of the world. It might mean going down to the local homeless shelter and serving food because your spiritual health is dependent upon your service to others. No matter what form your self-love comes in, remember: love is about growth, in the broad sense of growth as any sort of betterment, evolution, or repair of one’s emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical development. We may live in cookie-cutter societies, but we don’t have to fit into the mold. There is unlimited opportunity to help yourself grow, whether you have to ask to be accommodated for or move at the pace society has in place. It’s not rude or ridiculous or inconvenient to advocate for yourself and try to shift the cookie-cutter to fit your life and personal path: it’s self-love, and if others love you, they will be happy to help you get where you need to be. And let’s save most of our cookie-cutters for the holidays and sugar cookie dough.