It was the spring of 1985 and all I wanted was a Swatch watch. There wasn’t a specific one that I wanted; I just really wanted a Swatch. I had spent most of ‘84 ogling the bold plastic watches that I would see some of my lucky friend’s wear. In the mall we would walk past the glass display box in the department store on the way to the Naturalizer store for my mom’s beige work pumps. The loud colorful watches were screaming, “Look at me!” I always did. There were so many to choose from, too many. After what felt like years of asking and pleading for a Swatch, my mom finally agreed, but on one condition.
“If you clean up the yard, I’ll take you to pick out a Swatch.”
Well, it was springtime in Texas, so the yard was full of weeds. My job was to pull the weeds. That did not sound so bad, I mean, the reward would be a rad new Swatch! The job was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I did it. I begged her to drive to the mall the very next day so I could collect my prize. It would be so cool to walk into school on Monday morning, wearing my brand-new Swatch.
Well, I woke up the next morning with itchy welts all over my arms, in between my fingers, on my neck, and my face. I not only managed to clear the weeds from the yard, but all the poison ivy as well. It stuck to my sweaty, pale, freckled skin, like Fun Dip after you lick the Fun Dip stick, but this was not fun. I was miserable.
After a couple of weeks of itching like crazy and dreaming of Swatches, my mom finally drove me to the mall to pick out my very first Swatch. This time I was itching with excitement and anticipation. I had spent almost two years dreaming of the perfect one. I had worked so hard to clean the yard and even endured the pain of poison ivy. The case of beautiful bright watches was right in front of me. My mom’s credit card, at the ready. It was finally time.
There was just one problem…
I could not decide which one I wanted. I was paralyzed by too many choices. I tried many of them on, and I liked them all. The questions and second thoughts started coming at me all at once.
- What if I choose one and hate it later?
- What if I see one better in a few weeks?
- What if it feels uncomfortable on my wrist?
- Will my friends think it’s cool?
- Is this too much money for my mom to spend?
My mom knew I was stuck in this loop, so she suggested we walk around the mall a bit. When we finally came back, I made a choice that day. I picked out my first Swatch. Making the decision was hard, there was more than one Swatch that would have been perfect for me, but I chose one. I still remember how relieved I felt after deciding too. I loved my Swatch, and I wore it proudly.
Fast forward a few decades.
It is springtime in 2022, and college decision day is right around the corner for the many graduating seniors who have dreamed of finally choosing a college to attend. They have worked so hard for this. Many have endured a lot over the past two years during the pandemic. They have researched and applied, been accepted by some and denied by others, visited virtually or in person, and I expect they too have endured many days of consternation leading up to this big decision.
They have done all that they were asked to do.
I often ask former students, “Knowing what you do now, if you could go back and give your 18-year-old self a bit of advice, what would it be?”
Do you know what I hear them say?
“I wish I had not worried so much about making the wrong decision, because this was the best choice for me at the time, and I am happy.”
Having choices and options is a privilege, and choosing a first watch and choosing a college or future path may not be the same thing, but the act of choosing something is. It is okay that students take the time they need to decide. We can help them see that the act of deciding is empowering.
NACAC member (and Swatch collector) Tara Miller
serves as assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Admission at St. Mary’s University (TX). Prior to this role, she was a public high school college counselor in Austin for 16 years.