For Shawn Shinneman, a sophomore-year breakup leads him to answer the question: What kind of man do I want to be?
My sophomore year of college, the entirety of my eggs fell from the frayed basket that was my relationship with my girlfriend. We had in effect been together since day one on campus—a doomed beginning for any couple, to be sure. When the wicker broke 14 months later, I had become jealous and insecure. I’d pushed away many of my closest friends. I was merely going through the motions with regards to school and preparation for my future career. Most alarmingly, the faith I’d built in high school, that had defined me, was now just stalking as I made decisions, watching but rarely seen.
I was left asking myself who I really was. When that question seemed impossible to answer, I asked something easier. Who do I want to be?
And more specifically, as I felt it was time to buck up, the question became:
What kind of man do I want to be?
I spent a good portion of winter break my sophomore year, envisioning the person I wanted to become.
That person was a man of faith, a strong, quiet believer in God. He was a leader, someone his peers looked up to. He did not simply want to achieve acceptable grades; he wanted to fully grasp the material, to master it. This man I envisioned wanted to learn, not only about things that directly effected him but about things that effected the world in general. This man was a good listener. He was tuned in and responsive to the needs of those around him. This man believed in preserving his health.
Motivated by the recent crumbling of my most central life pillar, I underwent a complete reinvention of my day-to-day. Whereas I’d previously slept as late as possible, rolled out of bed and booked it to campus, I began getting up an hour before my earliest class, showering, reading an excerpt from the Bible and eating a healthy breakfast. Instead of napping or watching TV between classes, I’d read the paper or a chapter of a textbook for the next day’s lecture. I went to the library every Saturday afternoon to play catch up, and to set the stage for another strong week. I went to church every Sunday, hungover or not. I went to the gym every weekday, hungover or not.
My motto became: “Be the man you want to be. Everyday.” I don’t think I ever wrote it down anywhere. It wasn’t really flashy. It certainly isn’t groundbreaking. You probably wouldn’t hear it on “Grey’s Anatomy.” But it played in my head constantly, and soon my confidence was back and I felt my life was once again on track.
The thing I didn’t realize—the thing we CAN’T realize so soon after—was how much of a gift that challenged relationship was. I was left in a state of desperation, feeling less than whole, and—outside of turning to drugs or some other form of masking the problem—had no choice but to try to figure out just exactly what the hell to do.
For me, I took my first step toward becoming a man when I realized that I was far from my goal.
Of course, I’m not comfortable saying yet that I’ve become that man I envisioned, or that I’ve become a man at all. It becomes tougher when you’re no longer blinded by determination to put a painful breakup in your past. The motivation comes and goes. Since that second semester of my sophomore year, I’ve waxed and waned, faced both disappointment in myself and elation at my accomplishments. I have days and weeks of great advancements, and yet I’m easily susceptible to slumps. Twice during the last two months I’ve gotten so stumble-y drunk Saturday night that come Sunday morning I’ve decided I’m too hungover for church. I mean to do some writing everyday and yet only when the inspiration strikes do I get anything down. Sometimes I’ll just sit and watch TV with my sister for hours, cracking jokes. Sometimes I’ll decide to spend a Saturday in a coffee shop writing, but before the day arrives I’ll have left town to visit some college friends for the weekend. I keep that phrase dear to my heart—Be the man you want to be, everyday—but it doesn’t always drown out the noise like it did that first semester.
Maybe that’s the gift and curse of youth—I’m dead set on changing the world one day, and the next, well, I can’t figure out what I’d want to change.