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Dear First-Year Self,
How are you? Excited and nervous at the same time? Sometimes great, sometimes not quite so much? I know how you feel . . . . The transition from high school to university is not easy: you will miss your friends and you will miss the structured and regulated learning style of high school. But it is normal to feel a bit stressed; it is normal to feel like you can’t be yourself or to feel more reserved when meeting new people; it is OK to have consecutive days where your only wish is to go home and eat your mom’s homemade dishes.
But it is not OK to not try your best. You are not alone and if you just try, can work through the tough times. Let me show you how.
Don’t doubt yourself.
I know it’s hard being in a completely different environment; you’re no longer the big fish in a small pond, but rather a small fish in a big pond. But there is a reason why you are here: you earned it! You deserve to be here — don’t doubt yourself on that for a single moment. University means the chance to move closer to becoming the person you want to be, so open yourself up to its opportunities. Make sure you volunteer at that bake sale, go to that social, apply for that summer course abroad; take every single chance you can to broaden your horizons, because only through this will you gain the soft skills, confidence and unexpected perspectives that you need to be successful in the future.
Shoot for the moon.
Don’t worry so much; just shoot for the moon. If you want to apply to a job but only have three out of five required qualifications, do it! Even if you miss, you will have made a genuine effort, pushed yourself and surely learned a thing or two about yourself during the process. If not quite the moon, then that at it least lands you among the stars.
It’s OK if you “fail”.
There will most likely be many moments when you feel like you “failed”. Perhaps you didn’t get an executive position for the club you dreamed of, or didn’t get that 9.0 on your midterm, but don’t give up. Remember that everything happens for a reason; maybe you didn’t get that one job because something more suited to your needs and passion was waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
I know, it’s an easy trap to fall into. But you are your own person. You are unique. So what if everyone else studies in the library or everyone uses their laptop to take notes during lectures? Learn how to eliminate the “every” and focus on the “one”. If you find that there is a method to your madness, concentrate on what works best for you and don’t stress about how the majority of people are doing things. But if you are struggling with anything, and I mean anything, don’t be afraid to reach out and learn from others, whether they be fellow students, university support services, professors or anyone else that you feel will be able to help you.
It’s OK to take a break.
Work and study smarter, not harder.
Don’t find it a “waste of your time” to take a break; think of it as an opportunity to return to the strenuous tasks ahead with more clarity and perspective. Sometimes you just need a breath of fresh air or one or two hours of Netflix to recuperate so that you don’t burn out and lose productivity. But don’t take advantage of this “opportunity” either; make sure you balance your time well between your obligations and breaks.
No, I don’t mean getting involved with just the various associations in your program or in networking events. I mean something that isn’t just for your resumé. Take a look around. There are so many clubs, organizations, and groups of people working toward a cause. Find your people. Become a part of things like the campus music group or the Harry Potter club and attend every single one of those weekly events your residence organizes, despite the forty-page reading and ten-page essay you need to finish by tomorrow. Going to university and living on residence is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that you will definitely want to remember for more than just a place to study and sleep.
Don’t enrol in certain courses just to get an 8.7 GPA or study just to pass the final. People may tell you take Bird Course A or Bird Course B, but test their perspective! Ask yourself, will the deliverables of this course be useful for my future endeavours? Will it be something I am passionate about? Will it add to my value proposition and/or personal brand? Be curious about what you are learning and take initiative to learn more. Go beyond the assigned reading and explore the countless resources on hand such as the libraries and their databases. These experiences will only accumulate and become even more applicable for real-world situations when the time comes. Don’t think your question is stupid. Ask your professor if you don’t understand a topic, instead of quietly asking your friend after class. Chances are your professor or teaching assistant can help you significantly more than anyone else. Since there is an opportunity cost to get an education — not just money, but also time that could be spent in other ways — ensure you make the most of your years in university.
Don’t be stuck in your own bubble. Learn to challenge yourself and make it a monthly goal to find a new place or a new activity. Take advantage of the myriad of resources on campus such as the Career Centre or the Writing Centre and go to those weekly workshops on skill building. Those are the things that will help you succeed in the future and make you more marketable for employment.
Emphasize quality over quantity.
Numbers are important, but so is meaning. Don’t count the number of classes in which you got a 9.0, or the amount of clubs in which you participate on and off campus. Instead, reflect on the classes from which you gained new insights and perspectives, or on the clubs about which you are most passionate.
But most of all, give yourself time.
It is OK, even wise, to give yourself some time to adjust; so many things about your life are changing right now! Habits and schedules don’t form automatically; they require time and a little bit of experience. There will be ups and downs, but remember: you are in for the time of your life — new friends, new opportunities and, above all, the possibility of a new you. So as the saying goes, don’t sweat the small stuff.
Before you go to your next three-hour lecture, there is one last thing I have to say to you . . .
Remember, life will never be perfect; there will always be one thing you wish you could change here and that other thing you wish you could change there. But despite all of that, know that you can rely on yourself. If you want a specific club to be implemented, organize it. If you want to make your dream program using Individualized Studies, create it. If you want to start a new campaign or proposal, do it. Take action and become the change that you wish to see in your world.
Good luck on taking the first step to the best year of your life so far.
Your wiser, smarter, but still as obsessed-with-Netflix-as-before