As an incoming college freshman, I made the mistake of thinking I knew more than I really did — of believing I had it all figured out, weeks before even stepping foot on campus for the first time.
I thought my hours of research and conversations with my upperclassmen friends would suffice. They filled me in on the basics — how the classes differ from the ones you take in high school, what dorm life is like, and so on. But I was never prepared for the personal difficulties I’d soon face that I wasn’t able to predict.
I go to a college that is six hours and 370 miles away from my hometown, which is relatively far compared to where the other members of my class chose to go to school. What I was most looking forward to was not seeing any familiar faces, because like many others, I desired a fresh start — a clean, blank slate I could claim as my own. But once that opportunity fell into my hands, I became overwhelmed with all the sudden lifestyle changes I was forced to make literally overnight. The confidence and poise I thought I’d grown into during the later portion of my high school years deflated like it was never there to begin with, and I noticed myself regressing into a former, lesser, and undesirable state. I kept telling myself that all I needed was to give myself time, but months passed and still I hadn’t felt completely settled into my surroundings, nor comfort.
The first people I thought to turn to were my closest friends from high school, who seemed to be having the time of their lives on the total opposite side of the spectrum I laid on. There was the friend who instantly clicked and hit it off with her random roommate, the friend who solidified her friend group within a matter of weeks, the friend who fell more and more in love with the physical beauty of his campus with each passing day — I could go on and on. This information I gathered is based on my exposure to their posts on social media, such as their photos on Instagram and Snapchat stories. I looked at them, looked at myself, and wondered what I was doing wrong — and whether or not it was too late or even possible to fix it. I didn’t want to bother or interfere with their fun, or be the downer by bringing up my gloomier thoughts, so I refrained from discussing them to great lengths.
One of the many interesting aspects of social media is how it allows its users to carefully select moments of their lives to broadcast to the public — or more commonly, their friends — while disregarding the others. It’s difficult to stay away from it, because it allows us to feel connected to others when doing so physically is impossible. What people (like my former self) often don’t realize, especially when in a state of instability and vulnerability, is that nobody chooses to highlight the negative moments of their lives. When you’re living through those not-so-bright moments while watching everyone’s lives unfold in a seemingly perfect and ideal way, it becomes easier to bring yourself down.
I was shocked when, during winter break, I met up with one of my high school friends who told me she thought I was the one who’d been “doing really well” when in my head, it was the complete opposite. Her assumption was based on my own Snapchat stories, which included the occasional lunch date with a friend I actually wasn’t very close to at all, myself studying outside when the sun finally decided to come out after days of rain, something silly a girl on my floor was doing, etc. Thinking back to everything I’d posted that I could remember, those snapshots were exactly those: snapshots. Images. Stills of my life that don’t even come close to painting an accurate reflection of my life in the least. I confessed that I was actually at a very low point and spent the majority of my time feeling alone, and we laughed when we realized we were on the same page the entire time, but only came to realize it four months later.
Comparing your college experience to that of others can be incredibly unhealthy, especially when you view the lives of others through an extremely filtered lens, because it often leaves us feeling disappointed in our own selves when it shouldn’t. An experience is an experience, and while no two are the same, all are equally valid and valuable. People go through their lives on unique, varying paths, fulfilling themselves along the way. How horribly boring and uninteresting would it be if we were all the same?
If you find yourself analyzing what you do in relation to what other people have done to the point where it negatively interferes with your everyday life, here are some tips I found to be helpful:
- Step away from social media. Remember that you wouldn’t broadcast to the world all those moments when you feel unsettled or insecure or whatever negative emotion you may be harboring — and neither would anyone else. Besides, it’s refreshing to unplug every now and then, and to focus on something other than a screen.
- Do things for yourself — not because you think others will be watching. One of my favorite things about college is the opportunities of independence it offers, during which you can choose to do what you want to do — for the purposes of enjoyment, of occupying yourself, of fixing boredom, of anything.
- Erase pre-existing standards. I always found the idea that college is supposed to be the best four years of your life to be incredibly problematic, because while I do understand that the statement is supposed to emphasize the greatness of college in all its wonder (which it definitely can be), it made me feel that much worse when I felt like I wasn’t on par with that level. Extraordinary moments and memories will continue to happen and be created during all stages of our lives, and there shouldn’t be pressure to be “living the life” at every second of every day.
- Talk to someone whom you trust that will listen. Opening up to my friend about the emotions and difficulties I’d been keeping internal allowed me to work through and come to terms with what I was dealing with. I found a great sense of comfort in admitting such struggles, as well as figuring out how I wanted to move forward from them along the way.
There is no one perfect experience or ideal path we should strive to follow or emulate, because happiness manifests itself in many places and beautifully diverse ways. When I stopped getting hung up on the unimportant, I realized what was worth caring about and what wasn’t — to me, at least. I was able to focus more on myself, what I was doing, and the kind of person I hoped to become, rather than the image I wished to present to the world — there is something so remarkably liberating about that, that I think everyone deserves to be familiar with.