By now, everyone should be about a month or so into their first semester, and I’m sure that many of you freshmen out there are feeling slightly overwhelmed. The thing about college is that this is, for many of us, where we become who we are. We make that dramatic transition from experienced adolescence into nascent adulthood, and in the process, (hopefully) figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives, forge new friendships, and possibly let go of old ones. It’s a time of change, and not just one change, but many changes, over and over again – your group of friends will dissolve and reform, you’ll decide (or change) your major, you’ll find your first apartment, live on your own, and most importantly, discover who you are and what you want out of life. This is your time to try on as many hats as you like- and you should, because part of figuring out who you are is figuring out who you are not. The first year especially will be filled with many ups and downs; you may find yourself questioning things that had always seemed certain before, or you may have difficulty with things that had once been second nature. I remember my first year of college as an incredibly tumultuous time in my life – even though I was completely in love with Tulane and New Orleans, I felt constantly overwhelmed (although choosing to major in engineering at a major party school may be partly to blame for that), I missed my friends back home, my diet consisted mostly of quesadillas and chicken fingers, and I had no idea where my place was in the world. This first year, especially the first semester – is truly a sink or swim situation. And to help ensure you end up in the swim column, it’s important to take some time for yourself and invest in your own spirituality.
Spirituality can mean different things to different people, but for me, it encompasses three things – first, to take a step back and think about the big picture; second, to connect with both yourself and the world around you; and third, to stop thinking about the past and future and simply be. While these may seem to be three separate ideas, to me they are just three sides of the same coin (okay, so a coin only has two sides, but you get my drift).
So, delving a little deeper into these three components, let’s start with thinking about the big picture. The thing you need to remember is that in this world, there are forces at work that are greater than any one of us, and at any one moment we have only a finite amount of control (though often we deny it), and at times we’ll act irrationally in an effort to regain some of that control. At times, though, it’s best just to trust in the universe, and that everything will eventually work itself out. Sometimes you need to let the situation guide you – and by relinquishing control, you can find your way again.
Anyone who remembers the amazing mid-nineties teen drama My So-Called Life will remember this quote from the show: “People are always telling you to be yourself, like yourself is this thing, that you can know what it is… like a toaster.” This is still one of my favorite TV lines because it’s so poignant – when you’re young, you can’t possibly know who you are or what you stand for. Even a lot of adults still don’t know who the heck they are. Regardless, you can connect with yourself by thinking about what it is you truly want (and not what others want for you), and by standing up for yourself. By doing these things you’ll gain self-awareness, which is a huge part of learning who you are. What you want can certainly change from year to year and even week to week, but always give yourself the respect you deserve, and don’t let others take advantage of you – no matter what. Connecting with the world around you is a big part of spirituality too – sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are not alone. Connect with both the physical world and the other people in your life – enjoy nature, enjoy friends, and take the time to do something good for someone else; no deed is too small to make a difference.
One of the best things you can do for your own sanity is to take some time to relax and let your mental chatter fade into the background. There are infinite ways to do this, but one of my personal favorites is exercise – working out your mental energy through physical activity really does relieve stress and clear your head. I’ve also recently gotten into meditation – there are some guided meditations on iTunes that I really love. However you choose to unwind, the key is simply to be in the moment – to forget about the past or future and just be.
Remember, college is a truly unique and exciting experience, but it can get the best of you – so just relax, live in the moment, enjoy every second, don’t sweat the small stuff, and take some advice from someone who’s been there… try to limit your quesadilla intake.