It is common for new college students to allow many factors to stand between themselves and who the type of person they can grow to become. Naturally, many of our motives are a product of our respective immediate environment and the values of people in our immediate vicinity. When you arrive in college, you are suddenly free to do whatever you wish. If you want to stay up until 2 am playing video games, no one will tell you to go to bed (although your roommate may tell you to turn off the lights). If you don’t feel like going to church on Sunday, no one will force you to do that either. You no longer have to do things out of compulsion or due to the commands and expectations of your parents and hometown. But, now that you’re free… how do you want to live your life?
College is an excellent time to answer this question for many reasons. Firstly, you are more or less separated from your primary source of beliefs and motives: your friends and family from your high school town. Secondly, you are surrounded by a group of other people who are also separated from their home towns to draw new perspectives from. Finally, for some people it may be the last chance you have to allot time to personal growth before the reality of adulthood sets in. It will get harder to worry about developing yourself when you have to worry about feeding a spouse and four kids.Unfortunately, most people spend a lot of precious time during college worrying about how they will be perceived by other people rather than thinking long and hard about what kind of person they want to be.
Making friends and building relationships can be one of the most fulfilling achievements in life. However, some people take affiliation with others too far in one direction or the other. Some people completely disregard the needs and rights of other people while chasing after their goals and self development. Others become a doormat, putting others first to the point where they have no idea what they want out of life.
Fortunately, there is a happy medium between the two. It all begins with realizing the actual power of words (or lack-thereof). There was an old saying that was tossed around during childhood: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” While words do have the potential to exert power over our thoughts and emotions, in the end, it is important to remember that words themselves usually do not have tangible effects (unless you are the leader of a country or something). When many people first arrive in college, they are still transitioning from the high school mindset. In high school, words meant everything. You spent 8 hours in one place around the same groups of people every single day. Getting along with everyone was incredibly important as there was a stigma against those who do not fit the mold. Ramifications of said stigma include eating lunch alone, being picked last in gym class, and having to work alone on optional group projects. To an extent, your value rested in being wanted by others. Without any affiliations, the four year period can feel like eternity.
In college, things are different. There is no set formula for success, survival and popularity. There are simply too many types of people chasing after too many distinct types of possibilities. While it is wonderful and important to form bonds with other students, the end goal is coming away with knowledge that you could not have attained elsewhere and the ability to find work. High school trains students to follow a discrete map: follow the Good Grades River to the High SAT Score Mountain until you get to Personal Essay Peak and you should make it to College of Choice. College has no such map. Good grades are no longer guarantee success. Popularity no longer guarantees success. So then…what does?
Some students choose to major pragmatically so that they will have the best chance at employment after graduation. Some students know from the beginning that they wish to go to graduate school. Some students follow their dream major regardless of future job prospects. While I cannot advocate for one avenue over the others, I do believe that whatever it is you choose to do, you should choose it independently of external opinions and societal prestige. It is wise to consider and weigh the words of others when trying to reason out what you plan to do. However, it is imperative that you are making the decision based on what you reason to be best for your personal path. If your choice happens to line up with the advice given to you by others, that is perfectly fine. However, if you are basing your decision solely off the advice of others and not taking the time to think about what you want and why you want it, it does nothing for your critical thinking skills and even less for your self-growth.
When you hand over your ability to make decisions for yourself, you are essentially letting other people become a new parental figure in your life. Young adulthood is a time to discover and seek after what you believe for yourself. Do not be afraid of mistakes or failures along the way. No one is perfect and no one can give you the perfect advice on how to live your life. Keeping this in mind, what have you got to lose by making choices for yourself?
Here are a few questions to get you started:
1. Why is it that I want what I want?
2. What kind of person do I want to become?
3. What steps can I take to develop my character?
4. What is my definition of success and will it fulfill me in the long run?