Congratulations on graduating high school and embarking on this next step of your journey. You have so much living and learning ahead of you. I wish I was back in your shoes, and I hope the next four years are everything you want them to be.
If I had one piece of advice for my freshman self, it would have been this: It’s OK to not have it all figured out. You have time. If you have ideas about what you want to do, that’s great, but keep in mind that the more experiences you have in the coming years, the more your plans will change. There will never come a day when you’ll know exactly what your future will look like. Figuring it out is a lifelong process and part of the joy of living.
When you’re 18, everybody’s asking you about your plans for the fall. “Where are you going to school?” “What are you majoring in?” “Where do you see yourself after college?”
Four years ago, I would have responded, “I’m going to the University of Michigan, I’m majoring in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and I want to run for public office”. Since then, I’ve changed my major at least five times, dropped out of school, re-enrolled and discovered that what I want to do after graduation is completely unrelated to what I studied. My worldview has changed dramatically. Whatever happens for you will be for the best. You only learn what you want by being open to new ideas.
Don’t be afraid to embrace the unknown. Next time someone asks you about your plans for the future, know that it’s OK to say, “I’m not sure yet. But I’m excited to find out.” Always stay humble — you can even ask, “How did you figure it out?”
Not everyone will have an answer, but you’ll be surprised at how many people will give you their best advice if you’re willing to listen. Then again, take every piece of advice with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to the limits you accept for yourself. Listen to everyone and deeply consider what they have to say, but be confident in who you are and what you know you’re capable of. You may even find that you’re capable of more than you originally thought. Anything you set your mind to you can achieve, even if you fail many times on the way there.
Put yourself in environments where you are likely to fail. You’re bound to have some great professors and courses in college, but nothing compares to learning from failure — perfection is unattainable anyway. Give yourself room to make mistakes. Instead of trying to be a perfect student, take calculated risks. Don’t aim for a specific grade in your classes; instead, try to learn the material. By taking the pressure off of trying to learn everything, you free up time to question the material and think about what’s really important. If the material feels interesting or important, you can always come back to it later.
The true value of your undergraduate education isn’t about what you learn in a lecture hall, it’s about the people sitting beside you. The relationships you build here will become the most meaningful part of your college experience. Seek out classes, clubs and organizations that genuinely interest you. Don’t choose your friends based on what they look like on the surface. When you meet someone, pay attention to how they make you feel. It may not happen right away, but eventually, you’ll find your people.
Be mindful of how you make others feel too. Empathy, kindness and compassion go a long way. Know that you’re coming into college with your own set of filters and biases. Always be respectful of people’s time and space.
It’s easy to look at the people around us and notice all of the ways they should change. It’s a lot harder to look within and work on the parts of ourselves that need to change. If you devote time consistently to anything over the next four years, make it your own healing and personal growth.
The best advice someone gave me was, “If you want to heal others, you are your first patient.”
We all have things we are working through. If you don’t take time to care for those parts of yourself, they’ll end up showing through in unpleasant ways. It’s better to shine a light on them now than wait for them to surface unexpectedly.
As a University of Michigan student, be careful not to let your ego get the best of you. Joining the “Leaders and the Best” can you make you feel like you’re on top of the world, but keep in mind that academia measures a very small part of who you are. Don’t think that because you’re accepted to a certain school or program, you’re better than anyone else. If everyone thought about things the same way, the world would never make any progress.
Ultimately, listen before you speak. Learn to appreciate different ways of thinking — you always have something to learn from every person you meet. At the end of the day, keep an open mind and follow your heart. If you continue choosing over and over to do what you love, you’ll end up in the right place. You may even find that what you cherish resides outside of academia. Don’t be afraid to drop out or even just take a break to follow your dreams if college isn’t for you.
Critically, know that college won’t teach you everything. It may not even teach you the most important things, but it can be a wonderful environment in which to grow and a unique opportunity to network and stay focused on your studies. Whatever path you choose, make sure it’s one that makes you happy.
Often, the most successful people are the ones who are happy with what they do.
Lily Cesario is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.