By Seohyeon Lee ‘25
As an incoming first year, I was excited to explore my wide-ranging interests at a liberal arts college. I was eager to learn how to ask my own questions instead of memorizing textbooks to get better grades. During my gap year, I started making an impossibly long list of activities I wanted to try in college. Four years seemed long enough to try all of them.
However, my first course registration made me realize I had limited choices that I needed to use in a meaningful way. Incoming first-years can only take up to four classes in their first semester at Pomona unless they petition for more. I was shocked by how fast four class slots filled up. I had more than ten classes I wanted to take every semester, but I had to let go of more than half of them, which always pushes me to think hard about my decisions. I need to keep asking myself difficult but important questions to make satisfying choices.
What do I want to learn at college? What do I value?
I’ve been squeezing my brain hard to come up with answers to these questions, but I couldn’t tell how an unfamiliar class, activity, job, etc would feel unless I tried it. However, every time I wanted to try something new, choice paralysis held me from making a serious commitment that could’ve showed me the way to explore more deeply. There is a huge gap between interests and action, but as a new student, I had no idea how to bridge this gap. As a result, I spent a large chunk of my first year hovering around, unable to take advantage of the opportunities I had. I struggled a lot to find my way out – not many people at Pomona explicitly talk about the confusion that comes with the freedom to explore interests in a liberal arts setting. Here are three pieces of advice I wish I could go back in time and give to my first-year self.
Take action on your interests on the spot.
When I’m bored, I scroll through the CHIRPS digest, a newsletter about campus events. It’s fun, but I can only benefit from interesting opportunities if I turn them into specific plans and act on them. Last year, I would wait until I had a long mental list of possible opportunities before going over them, but that strategy didn’t work. I ended up with an ever-expanding bucket list that started to feel like clutter. Now, if I hear about an interesting class or a great opportunity, I act on it when my motivation is still fresh. If it’s an interesting class, I look it up on Hyperschedule. If it’s a program that requires an application, I check the eligibility requirements and start brainstorming for the application right away. If I stumble across an interesting event posted somewhere like the bulletin board at Smith Campus Center, I check my schedule immediately to see if I can make it. I also make sure to record the information somewhere I can come back to (for example, my digital calendar or bullet journal) so I won’t have to look it up all over again. That way, I can turn my interests into actions before they pile up.
If you’re sitting on the fence, try. Even if it’s scary.
I’ve never learned how to seek out opportunities before I came to Pomona. Because of this, I ruled myself out of many opportunities I would have benefitted from. For instance, I thought I didn’t have a chance to join a chemistry lab because I was taking General Chemistry my first year. At the end of spring semester, I was shocked to find out that my General Chemistry classmates were going to conduct chemistry summer research. Some of them had approached professors they hadn’t even taken a class with and had joined their labs. I had no idea such a thing was possible. My belief that I didn’t have a chance discouraged me from actively searching for opportunities. If I could go back in time, I would tell my first-year self that there is nothing wrong with asking for highly competitive opportunities like chemistry research. If I get the opportunity, that would be great, and I’d learn that something I considered impossible is within my reach. Even if I didn’t get the opportunity, I could learn what I should do to prepare myself for such opportunities.
However, I can’t always live up to my second piece of advice. Sometimes a fog looms over my mind when I try something new or push myself to grab an opportunity I know I’d learn a lot from. The fog blocks me from making the leap from interest to action, even though I know I’m missing out. I wondered why I couldn’t “just do” things I needed to do, but my willpower can only help me if I have enough energy left. This brings me to my third piece of advice.
Be smart with your headspace.
I can’t rely on my willpower if I’m completely drained. For instance, if I slept horribly the night before, I won’t be able to stay focused on my on-campus job the next afternoon, no matter how determined I am. Because I want to make the most out of my headspace, I’ve been looking for ways to save my energy and focus on meaningful experiences. Here are some changes that worked well for me.
- I have a morning routine I’ve been developing since my gap year. I know almost exactly what to do when I get up.
- I always carry a pouch where I put my student ID. This is how I make sure I don’t lose my ID.
- I stick to very similar clothes because I’m not interested in fashion.
- I cut my hair by myself. This is why I have very short hair.
Some of these changes were scary. For instance, when I cut my hair close to my scalp, I felt a resistance in my mind that I couldn’t explain. The feeling confused me because I had always been frustrated managing longer hair. However, once I cut my hair, I realized that I had been using a lot more headspace than I wanted to manage longer hair. It was liberating to open up that time and energy for things I value more. Changes like this kept me going when I felt I couldn’t go any further.
Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. Life is about dancing in the rain.
I saw this quote at my friend’s fridge magnet at the beginning of summer break. It spoke to me because my first year was like a thunderstorm. I was excited by the wide range of opportunities available at Pomona, but uncertainty poured on me like a cold shower. I thought I’d have a clearer sense of direction once the chaos ended, but I spent too much time waiting for the storm to end. Because I avoided the storm, I missed out on opportunities that came with it. I decided to keep going through the rain, even though it makes me shiver. My steps are clumsy, I fall down a lot, and I can’t tell where I’m headed to. But I’m proud that my movements are entirely mine. I’m learning to dance in the rain.
I added this to describe the lack of headspace. Is this too wordy?
I would like to stick to the term “headspace.” Does this part make the meaning more clear?