Before ending my junior year at St. Olaf, I find myself reflecting on things I have learned every year so far that I wish I would have known before. College slips by even faster than high school did, and I feel like I've come to the last mile of a race and realized that I haven't looked up from the ground once. Some of the lessons I will name will be more specific, and some less. Some will seem pragmatic and others idyllic. Such is life.
1. I wish I would have known more about mental illness
My first semester in college was fun and I didn't experience the anxieties that plagues me all summer. I was in a new place and surrounded by people who I wanted to like me. I loved my classes and tried hard to do well, and life was good. Then suddenly, it wasn't. I was panicking every day, and I would cry all the time, in class, at the gym, in choir rehearsal. I had obsessive thoughts that made me feel horrible and lonely all the time, and I tried not to tell anyone, because these anxiety attacks had been happening since I was 8 years old. I didn't know why my brain worked that way, and I was afraid that I was going "crazy." Eventually, I confided in a very good friend and she helped me get the help I needed. Without her, I don't know what would have happened. The rest of college has been relatively anxiety-free, with attacks few and far between, all because I went to a doctor and got advice about something that had ruled my life for years.
2. I wish I didn't put myself in the boxes that I fit in during high school
I was in choir in high school, so I must be in choir in college, even if I don't really enjoy it. I needed to be the best in my classes, because I worked hard to get a good class rank and GPA in high school. I needed to join a ton of clubs because that would make my resume better. If I didn't enjoy doing something it was because I was lazy and talent-less. These standards became harmful for me, and I ended up feeling like I'd disappointed myself, until I found my own niche. Being happy and confident doesn't mean that I always have to express myself in the same way. I change and my wants change too.
3. My college isn't perfect
As seniors in high school, colleges advertise, send us brochures and t-shirts, and they promise us all of these great things that they will offer to us if we apply. I thought St. Olaf was the best college on earth. I knew it was where I belonged. I smiled and nodded during speeches by the faculty and the president on the Opening Convocation and on other occasions. I didn't really listen to the words that came out of their mouthes. I just wanted to be accepted and live up to the St. Olaf standard. I felt these delusions crash and burn when I finally started to be skeptical during my sophomore year. I started to learn things about my college every so often. The Gray Shirt campaign started because cases of sexual assault were being hidden and buried by administrators. This year, the Collective for Change started because of continued racist incidents that weren't being addressed by the student body. I'm surprised that it took me so long to realize that St. Olaf isn't immune to the sexism and racism that effects the rest of the world.
4. Homework is not the be all end all
Freshman year, I stayed up every night extremely late just to try and even finish all of the reading due that week. I only finished all of my work if I stayed up until three or four in the morning to do so. When papers were assigned I would rush through them and not put in my best work because there was too much to be done for other classes. Eventually, I realized that no matter what I did, I wasn't going to manage to finish all of my homework and stay a happy and healthy person. I realized that since I am an English major, it would benefit me to put more work and time into the assignments that counted instead of just scraping by. I started to focus more of my papers and writing progress than on reading every section assigned for each class. My writing got a lot better, and my grades did too.
5. Finally, I wish I wouldn't have underestimated my value to the college
I could have found better jobs than the ones I'd been assigned to for work study, but I figured everyone would say no, so I didn't bother to ask. I figured professors wouldn't care about what I wanted to say, so I never went by for office hours. I didn't develop good relationships with my professors until later, but I could have gotten to know them better and asked them for research advice on the different projects I'd worked on. I could have looked for internships more often, but I didn't think that I was qualified. Luckily, I learned that I wasn't going to get anywhere without taking risks, and eventually I got opportunities just by putting myself out there.