It’s that time of year – the morning air is crisp, the quality of sunlight somehow different, and sunset comes noticeably earlier than only a week ago. These harbingers of Fall signal we are in “back-to-school” mode. In that spirit, this post is for all students heading back into the classroom.
Actually, this post is for all starters of something new.
For anyone who’s ever had to move, transition, or start a new job. For anyone who finds themselves in a new place, far from what’s familiar, surrounded by new faces, and needing to navigate new territory – be it emotional or physical.
The line between excitement and anxiety is blurred as we consider both the pleasures and possibilities of a new school, job, home, or relationship along with a sense of self-doubt, nervousness, and overwhelming novelty.
Over the last two weeks, as the academic year has begun in earnest and I’ve met with numerous college freshmen, I’m reminded anew what a powerful force this tension between opportunity and the fear of failure can become. In order to reign in this tension, and use it to our benefit, I offer these five suggestions – with some practical tips for those college freshmen:
1. Fake it until you make it. Research indicates that the act of smiling actually puts us in a better mood - if you smile long enough it, actually makes you feel happy. Not surprisingly, people respond more positively when you project friendliness and confidence.
Even if your stomach is in knots as you head into Chemistry 101 – make eye contact and smile with your classmates –no one will be the wiser, your body included.
2. Keep your internal channel on positive.
It’s easy to dwell on insecurities or mistakes, to label yourself a loser or a failure – but resist this emotional pitfall. The things we tell ourselves make a difference in how we feel and experience life.
Challenge negative self-talk, like;
- , “I’m never going to be able to do this!”
- “What is my problem? Everyone else is just fine.”
- “I don’t belong here!”
And replace them with more neutral or positive self-talk, such as:
- “I’m okay.”
- “It’s going to be just fine.”
- “I can do this.”
When you are looking for a table in the cafeteria and don’t know a soul – remind yourself, “I have a lot to offer – and can befriend someone today who also is new to school.” (Don’t forget - smile when you ask to join a table.)
3. Put judgment aside. Hold off on negative judgment and don't make any conclusions about your new situation for at least a week. The more emotional we feel, the less logical our thoughts become, so when we are inundated with “newness” it’s beneficial to wait until the dust settles before making a value judgment.
Keep an open mind as your roommate unpacks his or her belongings – just because you might have different tastes in style, music, or sleeping habits doesn’t mean you won’t form a lasting and deep friendship.
4. Reach out. Yes, that's right. Even though that might be the hardest thing to do when you are in that scary space of “new” – do it anyway. Smile at someone as you pass them. Strike up a simple conversation. Confide in a good friend. Connection is key; it is our biggest and best survival skill.
Here are some conversation starters as you meet other freshmen:
- How did you hear about XXXX?
- Is the workload harder or easier that you expected?
- What do you think your favorite class is going to be?
- Do you have siblings that have already attended college or are you the first?
5. Know that you are in good company. Simply put: you are not alone. We’ve all been there before. You can do it.
“You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So... get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!
Freshmen – acquaint yourself with all the student services available on your campus. Consider office hours and tutoring services, health and counseling resources, and student life activities. Contact your residential/housing team or college administration if you need a hand or clarification about how things work. Don’t wait. Take courage.