It’s astounding that my years at the University of Florida are coming to a close. Part of me feels like I’m just getting to know my school, but the other part of me feels like I emotionally detached from this place a while ago. Kinda bleak, right? Shouldn’t one be in the depths of their eternal love for college life during their junior year? The football games, the last-minute food runs, the endearingly unsanitary parties — isn’t that what college is all about?
To some extent, yes. For me, however, college has been less about falling into the right experiences and people and more about finding and making the right experiences and connections for myself. Fitting in has never come easy to me. As invigorating as it is to stand out for the right reasons, so much of me has always wanted to be like everyone else. I just wanted to feel like a part of something.
Brief synopsis of my college experience:
Freshman year: mostly perpetual disappointment from organizations, “friends,” and myself with a few great connections and opportunities sprinkled in. I told myself I’d learned my lesson and would make sophomore year better.
Sophomore year: I hit my rock bottom during sophomore fall. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be at UF, or even on this earth anymore. Somehow, after 5 straight days of intense clinical therapy, support from a few close friends, and an abundance of Stacy’s Cinnamon Pita Chips, I regained the courage to give this place another chance.
It was like my outlook had completely changed. Before, I cared about being in the right places, doing the right things, at the right times. But after I faced some of my darkest moments, I just cared about being.
Spring was about recovery and indulgence. I was wholly focused on myself. My prior experience taught me that I was so concerned about doing what was best for my future, that I completely neglected my present happiness. I vowed to change that. As imaginable, all of this focus on myself caused me to become isolated from UF’s social climate. Although I felt lonely, I felt pure. The benefits far outweighed the costs.
In combination with my new self awareness, I spent a summer alone in an unfamiliar city. Interning in Philadelphia, where I knew no one, taught me how to create my own fun and happiness. Because I’d mastered this crucial life skill, I know junior year would be mine.
Junior year: On paper, I’m unstoppable. But am I happy? For the most part, yes. I have 3-4 friends that I can call on when I need something, and I think that’s all I need.
However, I still don’t think I’ve ever gotten that feeling that I so craved my freshman year. I still haven’t felt like I was wanted by any sort of group of people I respected. I have never walked into a room filled with people and felt that there would be any less happiness if I weren’t there. I still don’t necessarily feel like I’m a part of something much greater than myself. These are feelings that I think would have made my college experience something I cherished a lot more than I do now.
So, what should I do? I’m still figuring it out. In the meantime though, here are a few lessons that I learned and hope you can benefit from reading.
- Black UF is plagued by groupthink. If your opinion doesn’t blend in with the masses, prepare to be silenced.
- There are lots of sad ass upperclassmen (or worse, people who graduate and just stick around because they already peaked) who pick and choose the freshmen they want to see put in leadership positions that they have control over. None of these positions matter once you leave UF, by the way.
- No one is as put together as they seem on the surface. Not a damn soul. In fact, I’d argue that the people who look the most put together are the ones closest to falling apart.
- Ask yourself why you want to join organizations or take on leadership positions before you put yourself out there. Is it because you feel something deep inside you that drives your internal motivation? Or is it because you think there will be external benefits? I’ll let you decide the right answers.
- There are some AMAZING people at this university. If you find yourself in spaces where you don’t feel like you belong, you’re probably in the wrong space! Don’t be afraid to check out organizations or events that aren’t the most popular.
- Don’t be afraid of doing things on your own. Going places on my own has led me to some remarkable opportunities and people.
- If you’re sure of what you want to do after college, go to events or clubs (or better yet, start your own) that have information that aligns with your interests. I have never in my life talked about what I learned in class in an interview.
- We all need a mental breakdown. Appreciate this process. Learn from it. Change your behaviors. Grow. Repeat.
- Embrace rejection. What I learned from my rejection from interviewing with Facebook my sophomore year helped me get an internship at Google my junior year.
- Listen to your intuition. Sometimes you need to be alone to figure out what you want. You. Not your friends. Not your mom. Not your advisors. If it feels wrong, it is.
Anyway, if I can get through UF and maintain my sanity, I know you can too. The hardest part is figuring out what you want out of college and out of life. Your friends can’t do that. Only you can. Once you figure it out, that’s when you use your support systems to get you closer to your goals.
UF has an immense amount of resources, people, and opportunities. They’re not going to find you though. It’s up to you to make this place great. Don’t give up. The last thing I’d want for anyone is to not remember these four years with a smile on their face.