As the academic year recedes into a whirlwind of the past, and summer’s sweet scent fills the air, it is a bittersweet feeling, looking back at my freshman year. In October 2014, I wrote an article titled, “I don’t know what I am doing. Thankfully.” That was at the start of my freshman year, a time in which I felt overwhelmed by the novelty of everything thrown at me. I eventually came to the conclusion that not knowing what I was doing was not only fine, but also natural. Needless to say, after a year of college, there has been a considerable amount of growth and learning, both inside and outside of the classroom. Amidst everything that I have learned and experienced in the past 8 months, one particular lesson stands out; that at nineteen years, I can’t expect to know who I am.
Let me explain. For most people, life before college is contained within the boundaries of family, school, and community. We took things for what they were. There was little room for personal exploration, and there was space to make big mistakes. We had the close guidance of parents and teachers, and a familiar routine that was the norm for eighteen years. As college applications rolled around and college decisions needed to be made, we might have grasped a better sense of who we are – after all, the Common App is a process that forces oneself to be extremely introspective. For me, after the college application process, I felt as if I had a better understanding of my aspirations and of myself. Going to college, however, messed that up for me – in the best possible way.
Regardless of how mature or experienced you think you may be, at the callow ages of eighteen and nineteen, you have seen and lived through very little of what life will throw at you. We owe a large part of our characters to our closest influencers – our parents, mentors, and friends – but inevitably there comes a time where we must question ourselves. For some, that time may have come as high school came to close, but I would say that for most, going to college forces us to rethink and muse over our decisions and goals. You could think that you’re pre-med but how on earth can you be so sure you want to dedicate your life to a profession without having any tangible experience as a doctor? You may think that you have found your best friends, but when circumstances change, you leave the comfort bubble of your social group and your lives beat on in different directions, can you still be certain that these relationships will sustain? Once you enter college you cannot go on with the same mentality of simply doing things because they seem comfortable or like the right things to do.
In college, it does not matter so much what you are doing, but more why you are doing it. This realization came after I was faced with dilemmas and tough decisions. These decisions ultimately need to come from you personally as the consequences will directly impact your life. Oftentimes, you can only arrive at what you want to do by eliminating what it is that you don’t want. For most of us, this is perhaps the first time that we are questioning why we are studying a particular concentration, why we choose to invest our time with certain people and why we want what we want. Freshman year was over by the blink of an eye and upperclassmen have assured that the forthcoming years will only pass even quicker. If the next 3 years is anything like the past year, you will encounter endless choices that only get tougher and through these trials you being to grasp a sense of who you really are and hopefully continue to be open to challenge your beliefs.
A common misconception people have of college is how it is a place where you will find yourself; while that may be true to some extent, I think it’s misleading to portray this period as the learning process towards finding yourself. I don’t believe you ever reach a point where you think, “This is it. This is who I am and who I will be for the next 10 years.” In the same vein, I don’t necessarily think that once you delve in a liberal arts education you suddenly find a passion for a particular study. If that happens, terrific, but don’t count on it because once you rely on this romanticized idea of discovering your one true passion in college, it is easy to get disheartened when after a semester of college you haven’t found a single class that you truly love. Many of my friends have changed their intended concentration numerous times. Accepting the reality that college is full of surprises and you may end up less sure of your pre-conceived notions are ideal ways to approach your college experience.
Embracing uncertainty is perhaps one of the best things you can do not just in college but also in life. After my first year, it has become apparent that knowing who I am incredibly difficult. Questioning ourselves and the world around us might be one of the best things we can do in our youth. Four years of undergraduate life should be one of the most memorable times in one’s life and having a meticulous plan won’t maximise that experience; having a curious and open mind towards change, will.