When I first told my mother that I had been accepted into Duke University, she went pale. We were sitting around the small tabletop in our kitchen in Australia sipping tea. I don’t know why, but all the important conversations of my life were around this tabletop. She congratulated me, as did my father. “But four years is a long time,” he said.

“I’m still thinking about it,” I told them, but I knew and they knew that my mind was already made up. I was glad to leave. I was afraid that if I stayed in Sydney, I would be too weak to resist the kind of life almost everyone I knew lived. I could see every detail of it in such frightening clarity: the hours at university, then the job I would moderately enjoy at best and hate at worst, the deposit on a piece of property, the bills, the pressure to start a family and then on and on until I died. At age 18, I dreaded that future in all its mediocrity. What was the meaning in that? Nothing seemed more suffocating. I packed my bags with the glorious taste of escape in my mouth, and the full confidence that I was being innovative and different. I was the original one who found the alternative way to live.

Thinking about it now is both funny and humiliating. I had thought, with the smugness of my grand teenage experience, that I was so different to others my age. I had wanted so badly to be original. It never occurred to me that being different is subjective, something that has different connotations to seven billion people. To Australians who had never experienced the dynamics of the college experience, what I had done was surely something out of the ordinary. Yet I was arriving in a place that others before me had been, and others after me would come. It wasn’t as if I had joined a nudist colony or taken up basket weaving. Original began to look drastically different to a college education at Duke.

It is interesting, the obsession we have with being original. Considering the desire of people to belong, a sizable amount of respect is accorded to those that find new, innovative ways to express the world. Many of the most successful writers, artists and musicians are experts in their particular field, able to forge out new interpretations or reimagine old material. We are fascinated with the characters that we are most drawn to—the Miley Cyruses and Tyler Durdens and Marilyn Mansons of the world—because, although they may be outlandish and strange and exasperating, they have their own ideologies and are carving out new pathways that make their lives seem so much more exciting and meaningful. The Western culture is very much one that emphasizes uniqueness as a positive quality. Indeed, we are all taught from a young age that we are special and different. Knowing this, it makes it clear why it is hard for me to accept the conventional path.

But the original life is a tiring one. The pressure involved with being constantly individual, a person of complex character that strikes out against the grain, is relentless. It doesn’t even necessarily manifest as originality sometimes. Its ties into the reason why we Instagram plates of poached eggs and share articles about refugees and upload photos of our nights out with friends. We want others to know that we have a voice of our own, which is to be truly valuable.

I have been wondering why I am so afraid of normalcy and the perfectly reasonable things that come with it. The job is just a job and the house, just a house. Having them does not make a person any less individual. I guess it all comes down to that good old voice called insecurity after all. I tried so hard to leave the place I grew up in because I was afraid that, underneath all that striving for originality, I was just an ordinary girl with nothing to offer. Now that I am in the last year of college, I find that things have come full circle. There is the open question of where things lead next, and I still strain against this picture of how it’s supposed to be: the passing of time, the expectation of waking up in the morning and going to work and the routines that become so familiar. What’s the original step now?

And then it occurs to me that it doesn’t matter because originality is entirely subjective, and that it can look like an ordinary day or an extraordinary one. It occurs to me that maybe the ceaseless clamor to define oneself as a person of character and individuality is just another way of saying: I’m worthy and I matter. You don’t have to be original to know that.

Isabella Kwai is a Trinity senior. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays.