During the last few weeks of my senior year of high school, as graduation day got closer and closer, I was feeling on top of the world. My real life was about to begin. I was heading off to college to pursue my dream, and I was living on campus, away from home for the first time in my life. I remember the excitement that came with sending in my housing deposit, selecting my room and connecting with my future roommates via “.edu” email. I wore my UMass sweatshirt with pride everywhere I went.
Well, as it turned out, my first year fell a little short of my expectations. I’m not saying it was terrible, but, well, before I even started college myself, I had heard enough college stories—fictional ones in movies and books, as well as true ones from friends and family members—to start wondering and imagining my own story, and the reality didn’t quite match the picture in my head. A lot of the time I remember feeling kind of lost socially and emotionally, and I went home almost every weekend because somehow, weekends at home still felt more exciting than weekends at school. I was pretty confused, because by the end of high school, I felt as if I’d found myself—found my crowd, my place, and the kind of person I wanted to be—and at the end of my freshman year, I didn’t feel so sure of any of that anymore.
Here’s a secret, though—most of the friends I have now have also admitted to not having a super glamorous freshman year. It turned out to be more common than I let myself believe, especially when I watched other people in my year stroll through campus looking like they had it all figured out, and then wondered where I might’ve been going wrong. The answer was nowhere, and the more people I heard that from, the more I began to realize two things: 1) There is not, in fact, any specific point in time when a college kid is supposed to find himself/herself, and 2) No one can actually say for certain whether people ever “find themselves” at all. One thing I can say for certain, though—I am not the same student now, in my third year, as I was my first year. I joined clubs and activities that gave my on-campus life more purpose, and introduced me to a lot of amazing people. I realized I was unhappy in my major and switched to a field I was more passionate about. I thrived in my classes and raised my GPA. I sought out environments and situations that felt more comfortable and right for me. I learned so much about life, about people, about the world, and, yes, even about myself. Does that mean I’ve officially found myself? Who knows, but I sure feel a lot more confident these days than I did when I first started college.
My message to second-semester freshmen—and to high school seniors approaching graduation—and really, to anyone who feels like they’re still struggling to figure themselves out in these college years—is this: There’s still time. There’s always still time. In fact, I’m starting realize how ridiculous the pressure to get a completely clear sense of yourself within a certain time frame is. Not only does everyone grow at their own pace, but also, life and people are constantly changing and you really only need to worry about doing what feels right for you now, in the present. It’s perfectly okay to feel a little lost, and the sooner you stop dwelling on it, the sooner you’ll be able to get out and discover what makes you happy and fulfilled, and your personal growth will naturally follow.