A small note before you begin:
After graduating from college and finally taking the time to reflect my past four years, I wanted to write a piece that can ground me, no matter what stage in life, when I feel lost or hit rock bottom. Whenever we enter a new space, the uncertainty of how you fit in the bigger picture can feel incredibly intimidating and lonely, but I think that sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that we’ll be okay and that everything will work out in the end. With that, I wrote a letter for myself:
You’re probably nervous about starting college. This is your first time away from home. You’re probably done setting up your room in Jameson, wondering where your roommate is. I’ll cheat a little and let you know that she’s super nice and that you’ll get along just fine.
I’m sure you can’t wait to meet your life long friends and to finally figure what your passions are. You’ll realize that some clubs weren’t meant to be, but you’ll also learn and do new things that never would have crossed your mind because of chance! Your openness to trying new experiences will bring you lots of hidden gems, and maybe lead you to a certain career path…not to drops hints or anything.
Your next four years are going to be exhilarating and tough–for reasons you didn’t anticipate.
I know you’re worried about classes and whether or not you’ll be smart enough. In all honesty, this should be the least of your worries. You will definitely feel dumb and yes, you will fail, i.e. bomb a couple of exams. A lot. You will be stressed out of your mind and want to drop everything 24/7 (even in your senior year so brace yourself).
But you’ll realize that you’re actually pretty smart. What’s holding you back is your mindset. You’ll find yourself in an endless loop of feeling like you can’t do it, that you’re not smart enough, and so on, but you need to realize that this isn’t productive thinking (and is imposter syndrome)! Your struggles are valid and you will get through it. You are exceptional and bright! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, including yourself. Telling yourself what you can’t do will hold you back–and you’ll eventually realize that you are so much more capable than you think!
I also know it’s hard not to compare yourself to your friends and feel inadequate, but I promise you that you are enough. I know that being surrounded by brilliant people all the time is intimidating. But I need you to realize that each person has a different journey with a special timeline, so focus on yourself and be the best version of yourself.
What many people don’t talk about are feelings of loneliness and sense of belonging when you first settle into a new space. College is such a huge place with so many people from different backgrounds. You’ll make tons of great memories with your friends, but sometimes you’ll also feel out of place because you just can’t relate. You’ll learn how much one’s upbringing can influence the hobbies, talents, and perspectives that they have. You’ll see stark differences between you and your peers because of the history that you carry.
All of these factors can feed into imposter syndrome and make you feel like an outsider at an elite institution. I want you to know that you do belong, and that you will excel. I promise you that you’ll eventually find a community that loves and supports you. I know it takes time, but once you find your people, they’ll make you feel right at home.
I also know that you have no idea what you’re doing most of the time. I promise that you’re on the right track and that it’s okay to still figure things out. Honestly your future self is still doing some figuring out so don’t expect to have everything mapped out from day one. Yes, it will seem like everyone around you is doing great and has set plans, but I guarantee you that the majority of those people are screaming on the inside just like you.
Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Yes, it is very tempting to skip meals to study a bit more, or sacrifice a few hours of sleep to finish a problem set. Please remember that you’re not a machine. You need to take breaks and rest. In the long run, a couple of lost points on a lab report won’t stop you from getting a job or internship in the future. Treat your mind and body with care. You deserve to eat and sleep. Self-care is a necessity. Don’t ever feel feel guilty for spending time to do things besides school. College will romanticize all-nighters and other sacrifices for the grind, but your physical and mental health deserves much better than that.
On the same note, don’t feel guilty for having fun and seeing friends. I know the grind is important but there are so many exciting events happening on campus all the time! Get some food with your friends. Go to a student-run show. Over the next four years you’ll be surrounded by so many talented people. You’ll soon realize that your time in college will revolve more around the people you meet and the things you do outside of class more so than your studies, so go out there and try something new.
Your time in college will fly by and it’ll be over before you know it. So do things that interest you and don’t waste time on anything that doesn’t make you feel happy or feed into your passions. Your time is limited and you can’t do everything in 24 hours. Prioritize yourself and don’t feel bad about saying no. Your time is so precious, so fill it with activities and friends that your care about.
I wish you the very best and I’ll see you on the other side…I won’t spoil anything for you, but I will say this–you’ll never guess where you’ll end up after you graduate, and even though you’ll feel like you’re struggling to make it through each semester, everything will fall into place because of your hardwork and willingness to try something new. You have such a bright future, so hang in there and take it easy for me.
Your future self,