You Come First

You Come First

By: Yadley Turnier

Many students have their “ah-ha” moment in college when things begin to make sense, and they feel whole. That moment completely restructures everything they thought they knew. It’s the revealing of their life purpose. 

Here’s My Story

Allow me to paint the picture: it was the fall semester of my freshman year at Quinnipiac University. When I first enrolled in college, I wasn’t expecting an easy A or a comfortable ride, but the one thing that caught me off guard was my inability to understand what my purpose was in life truly. You probably now have an idea of where this story is headed. 

Being raised in a Haitian household comes with many conditions; failing was a big no-no. Before college, I maintained excellent grades. When I saw my first F in Biology 101, I felt the most disturbing sensation in my chest. I spent the next two semesters retaking that class. If you thought failing once was painful, try failing twice. At the time, it felt like my failure was a reflection of my value as a person. I found myself so exhausted, stressed, anxious, and disappointed in myself. The bright-eyed, eager-to-learn girl was gone. I felt as if my only job in college was not to gain knowledge but to survive. It was a game of survival, and I was losing. The moment I found out I failed a second time, I began to doubt myself, “Why is it taking you so long to figure this out?” “Why is everyone figuring it out but you?” “Are you stupid?” “Maybe, college isn’t for you.” “You cannot disappoint your parents!” 

Some days I wished I was like the other college students. I wanted to understand the material more effortlessly, as they seemed to be able to do, but that’s not how life works. My main thoughts centered around disappointing my parents. I avoided phone calls from my mom because I knew she would ask how school was going, and I couldn’t lie. Being a first-generation student comes with extreme pressure. You can’t fail! You must get this right. You must set the tone because, well, you’re the first. I had serious responsibilities. My mom had high hopes for me to be a doctor, so I enrolled in the Pre-Med Program, but how could I tell her that I didn’t want to be a doctor? How could I tell her that this wasn’t what I wanted for myself? And if I was sincere, I didn’t know what I wanted for myself. 

Fast forward to the spring semester of my sophomore year. It’s half time, baby! The score was College 2 -Yadley 0. I couldn’t believe that I’d even made it this far. Even though I’d completed another challenging year, I was deeply unhappy. Everything made me uncomfortable. The summer following the end of my sophomore year, I experienced my first panic attack. I guess I couldn’t run from my feelings forever. I was faking it ’til I made it, but it was evident that I wasn’t doing well. 

My parents dropped me off at my dorm. Yes, junior year! I’ve heard many say this is the most challenging year you will experience in college, which was very true for me. As I was unpacking all my things, the thought began to creep in again. “What are you doing here?” “You’re a failure, and failures don’t belong here.” “You’re stupid, useless, and unworthy.” “You’re lost.” Something raced through my body, and it was the most frightening sensation I had ever experienced. I continued to ignore the signs of my unhappiness until it slowly began eating away at me. I let all the heavyweight I had carried in my mind slow me down. Halfway through the fall semester, I was experiencing at least eight panic attacks a day. Eventually, I stopped going to class. I would stay in bed for days at a time. Anytime my mom called, I’d let it go to voicemail. The girl I’d been when I was a freshman wouldn’t let anything stop her, but here I was at a standstill. 

College was giving me a run for my money. I was obsessed with this picture-perfect idea that I needed to achieve and be the American dream my family desired. So, what now? Well, I did what every Caribbean parent tells their child to do. I “asked Jesus.” I slept on it and prayed on it for days, and the answer was clear. I come first. 

The following day, I met with my academic advisor. I knew that there was a choice that I had to make. Yes, I dropped the Pre-Med program. FREEDOM AT LAST. The feeling of relief was overwhelming. I knew it was the best thing for me. All the scary thoughts in my head were gone. Soon, the gloomy nights where I felt like I was going through this by myself were few and far between. I was ready to write my future the way I wanted. The possibilities were endless. I didn’t have to limit myself to anything anymore; I could just be me. Even as I write this, I can’t believe how far I’ve come. I used to wonder where my life would go if I made this decision. I look back to that day and thank myself. That day was my “AH-HA” moment. It was the day that I choose myself, and choosing me felt amazing. I went on to graduate from Quinnipiac University as a health science studies major. I am now pursuing my master’s in public health, and I love it! 

That year I learned so many things while searching for who I was:

I am not a failure. 

Many times, we allow expectations to lead the way. We create all these expectations in our heads about what college will look like. Am I going to get good grades? Am I going to become a doctor? Then, when reality doesn’t meet expectations, we label ourselves as failures. Rise! We MUST get up because we only fail if we stay down and accept defeat. Guess what?! Your girl was not going to accept defeat.

The best things in life are on the other side of fear. 

I feared everything. I was scared to disappoint my parents after they worked so hard to get me where I was. I was afraid of what my future would look like if I made the wrong decision. Once I overcame those fears, I was able to let go and find myself. 

Stop comparing yourself to others! 

Oh, my goodness! We do this all the time, even in our day to day lives outside of college. We are always comparing our success to other people’s successes. Remember this phrase when you begin to compare yourself to someone else: Are apples and oranges the same? 

No matter how difficult things get, keep going. 

Get up and keep going. When I spent days in my bed crying with my anxious thoughts, I would always think to myself, “I can’t continue doing this.” I physically felt like I couldn’t get up, but I had to keep going. I had to keep moving forward, not letting anything stop me or keep me down. 

Lastly, do not limit yourself. Go after what YOU want, not what anyone wants for you! 

Yes, your parents may have a goal for you, but what do you want for yourself? The possibilities out there are endless, so go get them. Spring semester of my junior year, I chose all the classes I wanted to take, which interested ME based on things I was eager to learn about. It was through this process that I found my love for public health. Try something new and see how it goes. The limit does not exist.

“Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility. Make decisions based on what should happen, not what shouldn’t.” – Michelle Obama