Freshman year of college is a time of change. For many of us, it’s our first time moving away from our families and our first time “being on our own.” It’s a time of leaving the comforts of high school behind and moving some place where there are a lot of unknowns, or it’s a time of excitement to finally be out of that hell-hole we call high school. For me, it was a little bit of both. Here’s what I learned my first year at university.
1. It’s OK not to be perfect
I’m gonna be honest — I was a nerd in high school. Even at my classes at community college my senior year, I got nearly perfect grades. When I got to college and took my first chemistry exam and got less than a perfect grade, I was upset. Not only that, but it seemed like everyone around me all had their lives together, while I was sitting there questioning if I should even be there and what I was doing with my life.
But let me let you in on this little secret I learned — everyone is just faking it. Not really sure why, but it’s true — no one has it all together, and everyone was struggling as much as I was. They were just quiet about it. As for me, I’m now loud and proud about what I’m struggling with and my imperfections because that allows other people to feel free to do the same. No one is perfect, so let’s stop trying and pretending to be.
2. It’s OK to not be OK and to ask for help
First semester, I struggled a lot with depression and anxiety. Because everyone around me was pretending to be perfect, I thought I was the only one. It was through some amazing people that were open and honest about their battles with mental illness that allowed me to be honest with myself and with others.
I had an anxiety attack one day, so I called my mom up and she drove out (I only live 20 minutes away) and brought me to the doctor. I am now being medicated, and it has made such a difference to my mental health and well-being this year. It was because of those people willing to be vulnerable that allowed me to take that step of asking for help.
3. It’s OK to question things and to doubt
I grew up in a Christian household, and I remember struggling with doubt when I was younger. However, I wasn’t ever able to work through those doubts. I simply brushed them aside and pretended they weren’t there. But at some point, I have realized that those doubts and questions will come creeping back to the front of your brain, and you have to address them.
Luckily, the college I chose is a place that fosters a safe haven for asking those hard questions, and for not settling with easy answers. I learned that certainty is not faith; it’s only through doubt that we can arrive at a true faith. Everyone always talks about “making your faith your own,” and there’s a reason for that. We can’t rely on our parents, pastors, youth pastors or friends for our beliefs, whether that’s in matters of faith, politics, or whatever.
4. It’s OK to be alone
You probably noticed this in high school, but if you didn’t, it was looked down upon to ever be alone whether this be eating, walking to class, or being single. In college this changes. Everyone is on their own schedule, so it’s fine to eat or walk alone. Yet at a Christian university, there still exists the pressure to be in a relationship. You also rarely get alone time, particularly if you live on campus because you’ll more than likely have a roommate.
This means that you’re constantly around other people, which is awesome for growing and developing socially. But I think we forget the importance of spending time alone and moment to think without anyone else’s input. This is so important to growing spiritually and personally because it allows us space to reflect honestly.
But how do you get alone time when you’re constantly surrounded by others? I’ve found that going on nature walks by myself, hammocking alone, reading a book, journaling, listening to music, playing my guitar, and singing while my roommate is gone have been important ways to have a healthy amount of alone time. I’ve also learned that even though there’s the pressure to be in a relationship, there are so many people who are focused on growing and developing academically, spiritually and socially. Find those refreshing people. They’re out there.
5. It’s OK to be yourself
This is the most cliche statement in the books, but I feel like I have to keep learning and relearning this every year. It’s not because I keep changing necessarily, but I keep finding more ways of expressing who I already am. Yes, I’m growing and improving, but it’s finding those new ways of expressing those things in yourself that you’re just now realizing that is the challenge.
I struggled in high school with trying to fit in. Most people feel those pressures, and I’m not going to lie — that pressure doesn’t go away once you get to college. But it’s definitely a time to strip away the parts of yourself that actually don’t fit; the parts you taped on just to look like you fit it. It’s a time to look at yourself for who you really are, to learn how to love that person and a time to encourage others to do the same.