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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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A message to those starting out

Upon selecting senior year courses and seeing the Class of 2028 receive their admission letters last month, my friends and I have been very reflective. Reflective, specifically, on where we are now versus where we were on our move-in day on Aug. 20, 2021. These conversations included humorous recounts of our freshman year shenanigans, but also included the deeper ways Notre Dame has impacted us. I specifically found myself thinking about what I’d want to tell someone younger about getting involved in college. Though I could write an entire book on the topic, I hope sharing a snippet of my experience in this column resonates with any current, incoming or prospective students who may be wondering where their journey will take them.

Saying ‘yes’ while maintaining boundaries

Throughout college, I have continually taken advantage of opportunities thrown my way. Whether that was attending my first Observer Sports meeting on a whim, applying for that ND Listens job or checking out the Consulting Connect ”Why Consulting” panel my freshman year, some of my most favorite involvements have come from being willing to take a risk and just say ”yes.” These decisions eventually led to leadership positions I would not have imagined as a freshman. On the social side, saying ”yes” has brought me to the best people I have in my life and made for memorable stories I know I will tell my kids some day. 

College is a time where you have to put yourself out there, which is easier said than done. But if you come in with the attitude of willingness to just try something, I guarantee you will learn about yourself as a person regardless of your feelings on the experience. If something piques your interest, I encourage you to explore further. Just think: How many settings will you be in where you have this much potential experience at your fingertips? Not many, if any.

As you can see, I’m a huge proponent of being unafraid to say ”yes,” but I also want to stress that there comes — and should always come — a time to say no. It is important not to let your desire to do everything get in the way of your personal well being. This is something I specifically focused on after my sophomore year, after realizing I put other things first over my own well-being. During this period, I was given the advice to treat things that help your personal well-being as non-negotiables, the same way you might prioritize important academic and career commitments. This stuck with me. For example, working out is a non-negotiable for me. So is getting a meal with my friends each day, among other things. I block out time to do these recharging activities and treat them as a high priority and make sure nothing — unless absolutely urgent — is keeping me from them.

So, if you are repeatedly pushing aside your personal non-negotiables or find yourself needing to be in three places at once (guilty) you may want to reevaluate your other involvements. To reevaluate, make sure you’re not just doing something for the sake of checking a box, but rather because it really fulfills you. It is better to give 100% to a few involvements, rather than spread yourself too thin over a variety of areas. When it comes to social situations, make sure saying ”yes” too often isn’t negatively impacting things like your grades, your health or even your self worth. The key on both ends is balance. With a conscious effort you will find it.

Imposter Syndrome 

So, once you are getting involved in all these things because you said yes, you may feel what is known as the dreaded imposter syndrome — something that plagues high-achieving students like us. Defined as the condition of feeling anxious and not experiencing success internally, despite being high-performing in external, objective ways, imposter syndrome can overtake anyone. I know I felt this way as a new student (hello, freshman fall microeconomics) and continue to sometimes feel this way even today. Imposter syndrome includes thoughts like: Is everyone smarter than me? Why me? Is it a mistake that I won this? Will I be able to do it again? Was it just luck? I consider myself a confident person, but the thoughts still creep in and it is hard to think any differently at times. Sometimes my most successful moments were riddled with these feelings of doubt and fraud rather than pride. Looking back, this was only because I convinced myself that I was not succeeding, but in reality, I was accomplishing great things. 

In order to combat this, talk about it to those who care about you, they will be able to see just how amazing you are and often pick up on positive traits you don’t know about yourself. Call your parents, your family or friends from home. They will certainly boost you up. This is all to say that relationships are key. When reflecting on your progress, try to think objectively about your accomplishments, I can guarantee they’re more than average. An accomplishment does not have to be huge — finding a small win each day can shift your perspective and boost fulfillment. Despite this, college will undoubtedly be something new. You may find yourself being a small fish in a big pond rather than the biggest fish you were in high school. That’s OK. You will adjust and find your footing. I can bet your fellow classmates (and even your leaders) are likely thinking the same thoughts about themselves despite trying not to convey it. If you are able to acknowledge these feelings and keep them at bay early on in college, you will feel empowered to accomplish more and enjoy your success.

So, to the new or incoming student, whether you take every bit of advice from what I have said or brush it off, recognize what a pivotal time of life you are entering and what a special place this is to be. Whether you are enjoying college so far or not, know you are the writer of your own story and have the power to change it as you wish. Most importantly, you are meant to be here — don’t let anyone or anything let you think differently.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.