Valedictorian. Editor-in-chief. Vice President. President. AP Scholar. Lead Role. Part-time job and God knows what else. This describes high school me, like it does for many of us on campus.
I had it all together in high school. I put effort into everything I involved myself in, certainly, but I always received what I wanted: an A in a class, a raise, a well-done project or an emotional boost. As long as I tried, I achieved my desired perfection. I did not know my high school had been on the list of the worst performing schools in Michigan until I graduated, but even if I had, I doubt that would have scared my younger self when preparing for my transition to college.
I came to Michigan knowing I would be challenged by thousands of great minds, many my age. I felt ready, and was excited whenever I thought about my new “Victors 2021” identity — especially inserting the hashtag into my Twitter and Instagram bios. I thought I knew what I was getting into, and felt extremely ready. “It won’t be that bad,” I believed.
I quickly realized that I didn’t know what I was doing.
I was challenged beyond what I felt my brain capacity allowed academically, mentally and emotionally. Mentally and physically, I experienced complete drainage.
I believed I was the only freshman who felt this way. My sanity felt as though it had been stretched so thin, like how a rubber band loses its elasticity each time you use it, until eventually it just snaps.
Everyone else seemed to have their academic and social lives together; good grades, friend groups, club acceptances and everything else I couldn’t attain. While my consistent lack of self-confidence didn’t aid in these frustrations I experienced, I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I kept my nose in my books while maintaining the balance of seeing friends, writing for The Daily and attending a party when I could. I tried to get enough sleep because I cannot function without my eight hours. I checked every detail of my resume as I sent it to clubs or companies. I did everything everyone else was doing, and perhaps even more.
Yet, I was struggling to get where I wanted while everyone else seemingly zoomed past me.
“Why am I struggling even when I put so much time into everything I do? Why was I even accepted here?”
Many nights, I cried into my pillow with these recurring thoughts. I couldn’t understand why I felt I was doing so horribly. I felt I was learning more in a semester than I felt I had learned in four years of high school. Yet, when the time came around, I became lucky if I earned an average grade, even though I had prepared more than many people I knew. My peers went to me asking for help with course material, yet they earned higher grades than I did. No matter what I did, I was not enough.
But, with this, my soul still felt lost. I worked my ass off but wasn’t rewarded like I was in high school. I read my textbooks, went to class and office hours, participated and studied. I put the time into my academic relationship with school. All of this occurring while I slipped further into the cracks of lacking self-worth and confusion of whether I belonged at this school. I loved Michigan but thought Michigan didn’t love me.
I remember telling my mom in many tearful phone conversations that I wanted to drop out. I wasn’t good enough for Michigan. I put my academics first yet seemed like I always finished last. I believed I had failed myself. Others had everything they could ever want, and I was struggling to make it through.
However, after sobbing to three friends about my stress when they rushed to my room because they saw my face soaked with tears in the hall, I realized that many students felt like I did. They were also exhausted, lost and confused. They experienced insecurity about their academic readiness, and began to blame themselves for it, similarly to me. Even those who I perceived to “have it all” here at Michigan, came forward to me that they felt opposite of the image they tried to portray.
I suddenly didn’t feel alone or susceptible to self-blame.
I also reflected on the positive experiences of my first semester. Football games, study sessions that involved more laughing than studying, numerous Grilledcheezerie macaroni sandwiches (I think some of the drivers know me by name), meeting amazing new friends, sledding with laundry baskets, having a squirrel in my dorm, midnight walks through Nichols Arboretum, getting lost on North Campus while walking back from buying Little Caesars and other nights that I can’t talk about in this article continue to be some of many wonderful memories.
Through just one semester, I learned an important lesson: If I’m putting in my best effort, then the result that comes out of this is all I can do, and that’s okay.
We can’t expect ourselves to perform more than we are capable of. We will not be able to solve complex math problems when we haven’t learned how to solve basic problems. We won’t be able to accomplish goals if we are not capable of accomplishing them yet. It took me 18 years to learn this, but thank God I finally did. This experience saved my sanity.
My freshman bubble had been popped, but with it came a healthier and happier me.