Anxious, insecure and afraid. That was me for the entirety of my first year. I was afraid I wasn’t smart enough, witty enough or even mature enough. I just never felt enough. I was all that and more—I just didn’t believe it. With my self-imposed restrictions, pursuit for enlightenment and obsession with gaining knowledge, I pretty much was possessed by the ghost of Immanuel Kant for most of my first year. Though I hid it well with my smile and knack for deflective comedy, the reality was that first year broke me.
You see, in first year, all that mattered to me was grades (mostly because I have a massive chip on my shoulder—a lifelong insecurity of my intellectual capabilities). As a minority in more ways than one, I find myself to be dialectically produced through the antagonism of adverse statistics and being a “model minority”. And so, I spent every free minute reading, analyzing and revising. I was so scared someone would find out how stupid I was, how limited my vocabulary was or how inexperienced I was.
I finished that year with a solid GPA; but at what price? Excommunicated from my family, borderline friendless and lost—in a complete existential depression. Through first year, I always felt like I was on the outside, looking in. I used to lie to my parents about how much fun I was having and how many new friends I was making. I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t living a Hollywood-esque freshman experience.
After many skipped meals, sleepless nights and constant arguments with my parents, I had a really scary emotional breakdown at the end of first year. Truth is, U of T didn’t break me. I broke me. I was my own worst enemy. The self-deprecating inner voice, neglecting my physical health and muting those closest to me was what made first-year so rough for me. I felt unworthy of the labels “woman” and “U of T student”. I never took the initiative to talk to people, to go to events on campus, to speak to my professors—all because I was narcissistically hypnotized by the crippling voice in my head. I found myself alienated from “Life at U of T” by my apathy and inaction. I let myself become a number. I didn’t have a life-changing experience to realize this; I just got fed up with the feelings of inadequacy and made the conscious decision to do something about it.
That’s how I became an adult. All’s good in the hood now (as you can read in my tweets) because of that one decision I made the summer after first year. My dad once told me this old Persian proverb: Harsh opposing winds do not fret the eagle; for they only help him soar higher. Just like the eagle needs the wind, we need to be challenged to grow—very Kantian I know. My first year was blah, but I must admit I learned more about myself, my purpose and my life in that one year than ever before. U of T forced me to grow up; excuse the Kantian undertones, I’m currently writing a paper on him for POL381.
Here is a little piece of wisdom I wish someone had told me before I started university:
Future First-Years (and current students), I want you to know that you are enough. You are enough in that nobody is ever more or less than you. Personality, intelligence or rareness cannot be quantified; do not let yourself be defined by relativity. How you read something, how you say something, how you perceive and understand something is different than how anyone else in this world does. That’s what constitutes your “enoughness”. And so, by default, it will enrich any discussion. Whatever you have to say is meaningful because you are speaking from your experiences, with your voice—something uniquely yours. Whether English is your second language; whether you are dyslexic; whether you are a first-generation immigrant, know that your voice matters—so use it or bear the risk of always being misunderstood and isolated. If something doesn’t work for you find alternatives or create your own way (frosh week wasn’t for me so I found other orientation activities like KickStart to experience it my way).
So SPEAK in tutorials, raise your hand in class, frequent office hours, participate in discussion forums on campus and communicate your opinions. Free yourself from your inhibitions, and don’t be afraid to express yourself! Rousseau says it best: stop living in the opinions of others. If you ever need a pep talk, instant motivation, someone to vent to or just someone to talk to…know that the community crew has got your back. Tweet us, FB us or comment below. Like I said, we are in this thing called U of T together.
You are rare. Remember that and own it.
I hope my story will help make your journey a bit smoother.
PSS. An instant pick me up (drag onto dark background to unleash its magic):