Like a lot of millennials, I grew up being told how fabulous I was, and I believed it.
In a small high school, it’s pretty feasible for someone who’s passionate about what they do — be it crew, piano or academics — to work hard and rise to the top. Soon they have relatives, teachers, and family friends swooning over their skills. They feel confident.
But there comes a time in every kid’s life when they end up in a room with 50 other people their age who can all dance, sing, paint, swim, solve equations or play violin as well as they can — or better. And unfortunately, that time is often freshman year of college.
I was already pretty used to the feeling, having grown up in a very competitive middle school and high school, but my first year of undergrad still unnerved me.
Back when I did theater as an after-school activity, in high school, I always thought, "Wow, I’m pretty good at this!" It seemed like a fun and versatile major to try in college...and it was! As soon as the acting portion began, though, I started to have doubts. Everyone was really good. And they could dance — I can barely clap my hands together at the same time without practice. Suddenly, I lost my bearings on what made me me — what made me any different from everyone else who could do exactly what I could, and more?
That was just the first of my storm of first-year reality checks. When you get to college, you’re going to be bombarded with things that make you feel less than.
There’s going to be a class you barely pass, when you used to have a 4.0 GPA.
There’s going to be a time when you break down crying because writing essays used to be easy for you, and this one is taking all night.
There's going to be a time when you fail a test in a subject you were a master at in high school.
Don't let these experiences define you. They happen to the best of us. One, two or even 10 failures does not mean you're a failure. I would be super suspicious of anyone who went through college without failing at something because failure is how you learn anything.
When you're surrounded by people who are at or above your level and you're feeling overwhelmed, you have two potential paths. The first is that you stick with what you’re doing and kick it into overdrive (and learn from all the great people around you). Or, you might realize that there are other things out there that you’re more willing to work for, and decide to try one of those instead. And both of those paths are totally great and valid!
Nevertheless, you could love what you’re doing, know it's right for you, and still feel not good enough. It’s going to happen at least once during your college career — probably a lot more. The thing to remember is that you don’t have to be the best at something to pursue it.
If you love something, then don't give up solely because you don't feel like you're as good as you think you should be!
I guarantee that most of your peers are feeling the same anxieties and insecurities you are. Rather than focusing on being the most impressive in your field, focus on reaching your own personal best.
Being next to such talented people in the theater made me realize that while I loved acting and behind-the-scenes work as a hobby, I wasn’t passionate enough to put in the hard work needed to get career-ready. Instead, I shopped around. I realized through my large assortment of abandoned majors (thanks, liberal arts school) that writing and making art for a living were what would make me feel the happiest and most fulfilled after graduation (assuming being a ghost / demon hunter is out of the question — I haven’t lost hope).
I’m far from the best artist or writer out there, and every day, I encounter work by people whose skills I can only dream of matching.
But that's OK! It's basically what college is about; figuring out what you love and learning how to do it the best you can.
So take a breath and try not to let your insecurities keep you down. College is an amazing time! Keep loving yourself, even when you don’t feel as confident or special as you might have two months ago — you may not be the smartest or most talented person in your area of expertise, but you’re the only you and no one can do what you love quite like you can.