My most anxious times used to be weekend nights.
I remember spending countless Saturday nights staring out my window at the frozen landscape of campus — imagining that all of the lights from dorm rooms, apartments and houses were filled with students laughing, partying and just enjoying the few hours of downtime that college life grants.
And ignorantly, I deluded myself into believing that I was the only student whose first winter of college was dominated by this anxiety induced from the social obligation that seems to accompany dark hours — that my case was unique; I was the screwed up anomaly who was missing out on the college experience I had been led to believe existed.
While everyone else was out interacting, building friendships and relationships, I had locked myself in my fourth floor dorm room with a stack of paperbacks and a Netflix app that constantly asked if I was still watching “Mad Men.”
There is nothing wrong with being alone, but that first year I fell into an unhealthy cycle of self-hatred that I believe thousands of kids experience, started by the pressure to adjust from home to college life, constantly measuring their social success against others.
Because what is never conveyed to young kids arriving to college is just how profoundly difficult it is to make that transition at this point in their lives and, more importantly, how it is not instantaneous.
From the outside, I was always looking at the lives of kids who so easily adapted and integrated. Yet that blatantly selfish viewpoint prevented me from seeing the others experiencing the same shit I was going through every day. And instead of taking a breath, asking for help or breaking out of my reserved social self, I did the worst thing I could’ve done.
I wished that the next years of college would fly by. I proceeded to spend too many nights angry at myself for not instantly jumping into the ideal life I had imagined existed during those “four greatest years of your life.”
How much I regret that now.
Because as my college experience now comes to a close, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is how precious your time is. That is a lesson that is unbelievably difficult to convey to young people, because in our minds it feels like we’ll be kids forever. It feels like the present day life will never end, that the passage of time has selfishly stopped for us.
But it doesn’t, and the opportunity and privilege we have here as students is something not to be wasted. Time is precious and wasting it stressing over your social image or how you have not yet fit in — all of that eats away at literally some of the most invaluable moments of our lives.
This adjustment varies in degrees of difficulty from person to person, but upon arriving here understand that your home and high school image of yourself are unknown, that you have to break out of that comfort zone completely, and that you’re never going back to that life.
So, actually taking the time to meet new people, to knock on new doors, to try things you never thought you would — all add up and begin to shape the actual character of who you really are. Find a radically diverse number of social groups and see what makes sense. Try everything, instead of being upset over nothing.
As someone who has been in nearly every social setting this city offers, from punk rock concerts to political debate clubs, sorority formals to drag shows, I can say that every single one of those experiences has helped me understand a little bit more about who the hell I really am.
And as college will end for me in the next few months, the time I do look back on happily are the times I branched out — when I decided to leave that comfort zone, to try these new things, and most importantly incorporate them into life going forward.
Because eventually, at some point, you’ll run into something or someone that clicks, as a few things did for me. When that happens, it is incredible how that pressure and stress literally evaporate, how suddenly you feel like you belong. This campus is full of students feeling the exact same nervous way, I can guarantee that.
Relax. Enjoy your college experience. It will be over before you know it.
Michael Mordarski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.