1. Your plans will change. Often.
I thought I wanted to be a journalist until I turned twelve. Then I wanted to be a lawyer. Specifically, I was going to go to a university on the East Coast, double major in political science and history, and then head straight to law school. For a fleeting time in high school, I was going to be an engineer. But only fleetingly. Because that’s when I became an econ major. If you had told me that one day I would be a student of the dismal science, I would not have understood that joke. Even during my first year of college, my plans seemed to change every week (they probably only really changed every two weeks, but still). I first decided to finish up my undergraduate degree in economics and then head straight to law school. That was followed by the decision to take a gap year before law school. By winter quarter, law school had been replaced by a PhD program. The gap year was out. Then it was back in. The PhD route stuck with me until Fall Quarter of my second year. Then I realized that I did not want to get a PhD in economics. It’s funny how you think you want to do something…until you don’t.
2. Uncertainty about the future will only increase.
I have no idea what comes next (aka after graduation). Maybe I’ll do this. Maybe I’ll do that. Maybe I’ll work for company X. Maybe I’ll work for company Z. The fact that I was so certain that I would be a poli-sci/history double major and aspiring lawyer, and am now an econ major and not an aspiring lawyer, has made me reluctant to create extremely detailed future plans. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set goals. Not at all. Goals are good; they allow us to strive for something that we can’t really see yet. But we should not let goals stay stagnant, and we should not be afraid when goals change.
3. Struggling is an opportunity to gain humility.
Nobody likes to struggle. I’ll be the first to admit that I have definitely struggled with some of my courses (hello multivariate calculus). In the moment, I detested the experience of feeling that I wasn’t smart enough to do something, but looking back at all the moments where I have struggled with something, I realize that I gained an important skill: humility. In those times of struggle, I realized that it is not possible to be the best at everything. As frustrating and disappointing as that realization was, it finally allowed me to accept imperfection, and that even though I was “good” at certain things, there were a lot of other skills that I needed to work on. I also gained an appreciation for the uniqueness of our individual brains. Some people are gifted with the ability to string words together into lyrical poems. Others can solve complex integrals faster than you can say “Whaaaat???” We all have strengths. And we all have weaknesses.
4. Everybody struggles with something.
Imposter syndrome exists on every campus, and the more competitive the school, the more imposter syndrome exists. When you are struggling in a class, or with your personal life, it is easy to trick yourself into believing that you are the only person struggling. Everybody else must have it just fine, right? Wrong. The reality is that everybody has something in their lives that isn’t going how they want it. Everybody is dealing with something. Your struggles may be different than your friends, but that doesn’t change the fact that nobody’s life is perfect. Nobody’s.
5. Comparing yourself to other people is a poor life choice.
We all come from different backgrounds, and we all arrive at our destinations with a different set of skills, social norms, and beliefs. It’s always tempting to judge yourself based on your perception of other people–but these perceptions are skewed and subjective. It is very easy to judge yourself too critically while giving others too much of a break–a break that you would not extend to yourself if you were in their situation. Your success in life is not contingent on the success of others: when you look back on your life five, ten, and twenty years from now, you will not think of your success in terms of what your peers have accomplished. Your success will mean something entirely different–it will speak to how well you have been able to cultivate your passions and make an impact on your community.