What It Was Like Being Back at My Alma Mater for a Career Conference

Just over a week ago, I spent a day surrounded by the electric energy of smart, confident women at my favorite place in the entire world. And I haven't been able to stop thinking about the experience ever since. 

You see, I went to college in a magical place. And you could tell me you feel the same way about your college, but I wouldn't believe you. I'm convinced Hollins University is special in a way that is wholly unique and - yes - magical. I'm not entirely sure how to describe it to outsiders except to say that this place is my exhale. It is where I am not only most myself, but where I'm also my best self. The second I drive onto campus, I begin thinking clearer. When I am there, I am simultaneously more energized and relaxed. Tension leaves my shoulders. Everything I haven't done or wished I could do suddenly seems completely possible. 

So, when I was asked to return to campus as a featured alum for a career conference, I think it took me all of 30 seconds to accept. A day talking to successful career women and driven, doe-eyed students? Sign me up.  

Of course, there's nothing like being back at one of the most formative locations of your younger days to bring about a little reflection. 

When I graduated college in 2009, I didn't even know that my current profession existed. Well, obviously I knew being a freelance writer existed, but content marketing? Nope. It wasn't even remotely on my radar. I had spent most of my life telling people that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, but really had no concept of what that would look like. But now I'm doing it. I'm making a living as a writer. Box checked. 

And yet. During one of the "speed connection" sessions (think speed dating, but with alums and students networking instead), I found myself feeling incredibly...small? These young women, these students, these dreamers - they kept coming up to my table and sitting across from me and telling me all of the big things they hoped to do with their life. They had pie-in-the-sky dreams. They had make-a-difference dreams. Didn't I used to be just like that? So hopeful, so inspired, so sure I would be who I wanted to be?

Because yes: I am making a living writing. But 2009 Cortney wanted to be a writer with a capital Creative. She wanted to write novels and short stories and essays that people would read and think, "Yes, I feel this exact same way sometimes. Thank you." And it's not that I've given up on those goals, because I haven't. I'm still taking small steps to pursue them, but they are just that: small. Somehow, bafflingly, six and a half years have passed. I can do more. 

I went back to Hollins expecting to inspire current students to pursue their goals. I didn't quite expect that they would instead have the same effect on me. That I would feel more inspired than I have in months. That I would want to act, want to do, want to be...better. 

And really, I should have known. If there's any place that can reconnect me with who I am and who I want to be, it's Hollins. It's a good reminder to my fellow sisters: if you're feeling lost, if you aren't quite sure you're on track, or if you just need to remember how it felt - go back. Step on to campus. Take a deep breath. Exhale.