ASP’s Impact on a Distracted College Mind

I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in May and I can only describe it as the greatest place in the world. I made so many lifelong friends, learned so much from my professors and peers, and grew in indescribable ways.

But my time at UNC wasn’t all sunshine and blue cups. During my first two years, I spent just an absurd amount of time comparing myself to everyone else I encountered in every way, and my conclusion was always the same: I am not enough. I’m not smart enough, funny enough, interesting enough, kind enough, Christian enough and so what could God use me for? What was my purpose?

During my first two years at UNC I spent so much time thinking about myself and my perceived shortcomings that I really didn’t have a ton of time left to think about anything else. Those two years were a pretty selfish time– I didn’t invest in my friendships, my family, or my relationship with God because I was so wrapped up in these mean, unproductive comparisons.

Enter one of my favorite Bible verses: Galatians 5:6. It reads, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” This was a radical thing for 18 year old Payton to read, because it told me that none of the things that took up so much of my brainspace really mattered. Not grades, not retweets, not relationships or hours logged at <insert generic college activity here.> Sure, all of those things are important (except maybe retweets), but they don’t hold Eternal significance. They don’t “count.” I struggled immensely to believe those words, and my inability to really believe these words had real, negative consequences.

Amazingly, God opened a door for me to work for the Appalachia Service Project during the summer, and it was this experience that helped me understand this verse in a new way. For a few amazing weeks, I really didn’t think about being “enough,” because it was my job to think about other people from the time I woke up to the time my head hit the pillow. My literal job was to focus on the Eternal, and to love on other people,  and it was GLORIOUS.

I realized during my second summer that if I wanted to outgrow my selfish attitude, I needed to bring some of that perspective back to UNC. Fortunately for me, my dear friends Josh and Cara helped me realize that we could bring ASP, the place where I felt most balanced and in touch with my faith, to school by starting an ASP Campus Chapter!

And so Junior year was different. Every week, I spent some time intentionally not not thinking about myself, my grades, or my retweets. Instead, I learned how to start a student organization, write a charter, interview and fill an executive board, apply for grant funding, and so much more.  Together as a chapter, we learned about housing issues in our area and spread awareness about the issues of Central Appalachia to the greater student body. We took two alternative break trips where we built wheelchair ramps and during it all, I got a little taste of the freedom from my self-doubt that I relished each summer.

I can’t say that starting an ASP Campus Chapter just magically fixed my outlook, because it’s still something that I work on every day. But it did do so much more: it helped me make wonderful friends, learn a ton of new skills, and make a real difference in my community. The second spring break trip even led me to realize that I wanted to take a year to think about what God wants for my life with ASP’s vocational discernment fellowship.

I would encourage any college student who may struggle with balance to explore the opportunities for service in your area. If you’re not finding your fit, talk to me or Cara about starting an ASP chapter at your school! ASP at UNC really helped me redirect my focus from myself to the thing that “counts:” loving other people, and for that I am forever grateful.  

Payton Williams is a 2017 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a B.S. in Public Health, Health Policy and Management, and a Minor in Chemistry. During her time at UNC she co-founded an ASP Campus Chapter to serve the Orange County community, advocate for housing needs in Appalachia, and lead her peers in service that she has grown so passionate about. She is currently serving with ASP for a year as the Case Manager and Volunteer Coordinator Fellow in our flood relief efforts in Greenbrier, West Virginia. She also spent 3 additional years on ASP Summer Staff, serving in Harlan, Kentucky in 2014, Sullivan, Tennessee in 2015, and was the Center Director in Logan, West Virginia in 2015. Prior to her time working with ASP, she also served as a high school youth for 5 years.