Michelle Phillips: Push your limits to find community

Monday, February 6, 2017 - 6:00pm

It was move-in day. I was a sweaty, naive freshman whose biggest concern was making sure my carpet matched my bedding. I looked forward to a fresh start in a new place with new  faces to greet. On that sunny day in September, I had no idea how much I would grow, learn and discover in this first, transitional year from high school senior to college student.

As a freshman, I was sent off with a kiss on the cheek from my mom and a stern look from my dad that said “work your hardest.” As these constant reminders and support from the people you love start to fade after move-in day, it is only up to you to push yourself to make the most of your college experience.

At the beginning of this year, I started small. I set an achievable goal that I knew I could accomplish. I promised myself shortly after laying down my rug and organizing my shoe shelf that I would always take the stairs in an attempt to stay fit. I lived on the fourth floor, and I felt that this was a very achievable goal.

To this day, I have kept my word. I know that no matter how horrible of a day I’m having, I can walk up four flights of stairs and tell myself I have accomplished something productive that day. For me, making it to the top of the stairs gives me a feeling of accomplishment, like acing a test or landing a job. I push myself to do this simple task that leaves me feeling satisfied, knowing I at least worked for something that day.

The challenge of coming to such a large school is that, if you don’t know where your community lies or what your interests are, it can be a hard challenge to push yourself to learn a new hobby or meet new people. But I kept pushing myself to meet new people, join new clubs or try new restaurants that tested my taste buds.

In contrast, the benefit of coming to a school with over 44,000 students is that no matter how unique your interests may be, you can find someone who enjoys the same things you do. As an avid “Bachelor” fan, I found a place to express my love for the show by joining a fantasy league. I just had to push myself to find the right people who indulged in the same guilty pleasures as I did.

There have been moments when I have been scared to start a conversation, and many times I have had awkward experiences of trying to branch out and try something new. I have come to realize you need to know yourself and your limits. We are all different and will push ourselves differently. But I do not speak for everyone. I know myself: I am a hardworking, determined individual who is constantly pushing myself to be the best person I can be. But for many freshmen — and college students in general — our abilities to push ourselves get fogged with a misconception that we don't know if we are pushing ourselves in the right direction.

As sophomore year looms overhead, I wonder if I have made my time as a freshman count. While I had an idea of the things I wanted to surround myself with, I don’t know if I have taken advantage of all the opportunities I have interest in, and I will try to continue to try new things in the years to come.

In a world of fear and fright, we need to take risks to pursue a new hobby or join a new club. College is the only time we are surrounded by a large majority of people our age, who are expanding their views of the world and have genuine interests in learning new things. It is through these experiences of pushing that we learn the most about ourselves and our interests. I have found that by challenging myself academically, socially and extracurricular-ly, I have surrounded myself with a community I feel comfortable in. And I think that we could all benefit from that.

College is a time to grow. It is a time to get away from your parents and expand on ideas and study topics that are interesting to you. Though choices can become overwhelming at a school that basically offers everything, as students we must take advantage of this, because these opportunities will be harder to find once we leave this campus.

Michelle Phillips can be reached at mphi@umich.edu.