My first year of college is officially in the books. I've been told that college changes you and that you walk out of it as a very different person.
I'm here to tell you they're not wrong.
Since I was a kid, it was an expectation that I was to attend a university and get a degree. I remember being as young as six years old and tugging on my mom's shirt, telling her (or maybe shouting... I was a loud child) that I wanted to go to Yale. From that point forward, school was my priority in every way, shape, and form. I definitely hit some bumps in the road, but I'd get back up and dedicate myself to academia.
This was especially true when I got to high school. My goal as a freshman was to create the most solid foundation I could for my GPA, so that I could keep it high even if harder courses lower the average. This was solely for the purpose of looking good on college applications.
My high school was a charter school for the arts, where I was surrounded by virtuosos, painting prodigies, and performers. I studied theater there and planned to continue my studies at the university level. Wherever I ended up, I wanted it to be somewhere good. Like, reading my resume and nodding once you get to the education section good.
I took seven AP courses and passed six of the AP exams. My resume was packed with extracurriculars and leadership positions. Peers called me one of the "smart ones" and I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't reassuring. With all of this, I was determined to get through high school, go to a prestigious university, further develop my theatrical skill-set, and work from there.
I got through high school. I committed to UNC-Chapel Hill. I started my first semester.
Then I crashed.
My motivation for school work was gone, and generally, I was upset all the time. As soon as I left my art school, acting didn't excite me anymore. Communications didn't present any use to me. Making friends was difficult and I didn't feel good enough about myself to go out and find people. I was stuck, and it was worse than just a "bump in the road".
So, what happened?
All of my past motivation came from wanting to get into a reputable school, so when I achieved that goal, I lost my ambition. This thing that I've worked up to my entire life happened... now what?
My initial idea for combating this crash was to set another long-term goal. If I think of another thing to work towards in academia, I could get through college and make the dean's list. The danger in that is falling back into the cycle.
This isn't to talk down setting goals, that's an important thing, but letting your identity and self-concept rely on one specific achievement is when it gets dangerous.
My next idea was saying "f*** it, I'm taking whatever I want" and going ham with my next schedule. I went through catalogs, the academic advising website, and all of the open classes on Connect Carolina to find courses that intrigued me.
I registered for classes, took finals, and officially made it through my first year. I'm writing this piece as a pre-declared Journalism and History double major, excited as ever about my schedule next fall. These aren't just classes for a degree, but rather classes that I want to excel in because of the material. That's it. I don't have the energy nor desire to rip my hair out over getting accepted into X or achieving Y. It's exhausting, and I'm ready to give it a break.
Instead, I want to learn more about life in the US during WWII and how to become a better storyteller. This isn't about being the best anymore, it's letting myself actually do what I want.
Of course, I still set goals. Ideally, I'd like to have a play I write produced in a big city, but I'm not going to beat myself up if I'm not the most talented young playwright in the nation. Play-writing is something that I like to do, and if I keep doing what I like to do, I won't have to think about being "good enough" at it. That's how I see college, and it's incredibly relieving.
So, how have I changed after one year at UNC?
It's simple: I'm not dreading the other three.