I am halfway done with college.
Yikes. I have no idea how that happened so quickly. It’s so strange to think back to August-2013-me, so excited and sure of herself and full of (largely unrealistic) expectations about Pomona, college, life in general. She is so different from August-2014-me, arriving on campus early for sponsor training, equal parts anticipiatory and apprehensive, just beginning to figure out that she cannot force her will, or her plans, on the world. August-2015-me is, no doubt, going to end up being a very different person from May-2015-me (hi there!) — at the very least, she will know the geography of Manhattan better than the current version does. Looking back on all these past versions of myself, it’s kind of shocking to recognize how much they had to learn, and to know exactly what they would have to go through to learn it.
Sophomore year can get lonely and be pretty rough regardless of your situation, but your junior, senior, or even first years don’t necessarily promise to be any easier. With that in mind, I should note that the following reflections on my sophomore year don’t necessarily pertain to second-year students alone. So, since I’m a fan of both lists and life lessons, I present:
The 7 Most Important Things I Learned This Year
1. You do not have to engage.
If you’re at all like me, stepping away can be difficult to do. Sponsee wants to tell you how his/her day went? Work email should probably be answered before you go to sleep? Difficult conversation should probably be had sooner rather than later? Sometimes, whatever the reason, you aren’t up to engaging — but you don’t always have to be. Choosing not to engage at any particular moment is a not the same thing as running away or avoiding something forever. Taking care of yourself means being realistic when you evaluate how much time and energy you are able to expend in a day, and sometimes there are going to be days when you just don’t have any more to give.
This was the year I learned to admit when I just couldn’t, to take a rain check on conversations until the next day (though I believe following through on this is hugely important), to finish readings in the morning if my brain had turned to mush, to trade off with my TSL co-Senior Designer if something was too much for Thursday night at 3 am (Benji Lu, if you’re reading this, you’re amazing and I still appreciate you so much). On that note,
2. There is no way to do this alone.
Everyone needs to seek support at some point, whether it be from a close friend or a sponsor or a professor or a campus resource center — heck, there have been times when even a book, or a song, has been a source of support for me.
That said, reaching out doesn’t have to be as big a deal as it can sometimes feel. I tend to think of support as falling on a spectrum, encompassing everything from “Are you free to catch up over dinner later?” to “It’s been a shitty day, but I don’t want to talk about it” to “I really need your advice right now.” This past year, there have been times when I was lonely and just needed to interact with people in general; when I was stressed and needed to be in a welcoming environment with absolutely no social pressure whatsoever (hi sponsor group); when I was severely emotionally compromised and needed the support of people who knew me well enough to know what I actually needed (hi Eron). If you’re hesitating to send that text, or knock on that door, my advice is to take a deep breath and just do it. Personally, I have yet to regret doing so.
3. Sometimes people are going to miss the point.
And often they’re going to do it in a really major way. There are going to be moments when you contribute something to a conversation only to have someone, minutes later, say something that illustrates how completely he/she/they misunderstood you. There are going to be moments when you’re debating an issue and it’s very clear that you and the person on the other side are arguing in completely different languages, sometimes over two entirely different things.
The thing is, it isn’t always worth it to expend energy making yourself understood to people who are sometimes unable to, or determined not to, hear you (see not engaging, above). Alternatively, sometimes it’s very worth it. My biggest takeaway with respect to this point? Pick your battles wisely, but always, always criticize the argument and not the person. You don’t need to resort to a straw man to make your point.
4. You are not always capable of being honest with yourself…
One of the things I appreciate most about being an extrovert (and, trust me, there are a lot of things I do not appreciate, such as the genuine need to interact with someone briefly at least once every two hours to prevent a significant drop in mood) is processing out loud. Most of the time, I need to hear others’ opinions before I’m completely confident in my own, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with what they actually say.
Don’t get me wrong: when you sit down and have a heart-to-heart with yourself, you discover a lot. Introspection is an incredibly powerful thing. But you are (understandably) not the most objective when it comes to yourself. You are not able to surprise yourself with a perspective you hadn’t considered before, because you are you are you. This has nothing to do with the (falsely) perceived introvert-extrovert binary. All of us have moments where we convince ourselves of something because it’s what we want to believe, and all of us sometimes need someone outside our own heads to ask, “Hmm…are you sure you’re sure?”
5. …But you do not have to accept the version of yourself others see.
All of that said, you are ultimately the only one who knows you best. No matter where you end up for college, or in life, you’re going to meet people who think they know you better than you do. It’s important to remember that this is never the case, no matter how close they may be to you.
This shouldn’t be an excuse to write off others’ perspectives entirely, but if, after honest consideration, you still disagree with their evaluations, you are completely justified in ignoring them. As a person of mixed race, for example, I have struggled a lot to define myself racially in a world that, in many ways, attempts to do it for me. It took me far too long to really believe that how I choose to define myself, in any situation, depends only on me — not my family, not my best friends, not my professors. Nobody else has the power to prescribe who you are, no matter how much they’d sometimes like to think otherwise.
6. Give yourself some credit.
More than likely, there are going to be days when you don’t just not feel “good enough” — you don’t feel “good” at all, at anything. There is no real, permanent cure for these days (or weeks, or months, sometimes), but there is always the essential truth that you deserve to be here. Here at Pomona, here in California, here on planet Earth, here in existence. You have done so much to get here, you have worked so hard and come so far, and no matter how horrible and overwhelmed you may feel at times, don’t undermine that. Don’t discount its importance.
My advice, which I believe adamantly but admit to not being the best at following, is to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. You’re not always going to get As or handle social situations perfectly or turn every assignment in on time. The hard part is being okay with this, but all we can do is try our best to be.
Finally, and most importantly,
7. Do not let what’s going on in your head or your heart affect how you treat the people around you.
Nobody deserves your anger, frustration, clipped words, bad tone, or distant attitude. If you’re going to be with people you care about, try to pull yourself out of your head and really be there with them. If you’re having a bad day, it’s okay to reach out or opt out of engaging (see above), but don’t subject others to your negativity when they’ve done nothing to deserve it.
Besides, you never know what other people are struggling with, or whether you can help. Some of the best conversations I had this year took place when I wanted to wallow in my own upsetness much more than I wanted to listen to someone else’s, but I don’t regret a single one of them. It’s difficult to really connect if you’re wrapped up in yourself, but nothing combats negativity like genuine human connection. 🙂