Dear First Years;
Congratulations! You’re in the home stretch of your first semester at college. You’ve been here a while now but many of you feel like you aren’t fitting in, that you haven’t made your friends yet, and that everyone else at UVA is better than you (at everything). You look around at your hall mates and your classmates and they seem to be doing so well. They’re involved with 50+ clubs and organizations, are acing all of their classes, and still seem able to balance going to the gym, making friends, and leading an active social life. You aren’t. You’re absolutely hating/failing CHEM 1410; you are overly anxious about with who you will be attending the next football game; and Ohill’s icemilk and chicken patties seem to be getting to you. You haven’t found the infamous “friend group” you’re supposed to be finding, and everyone else on your hall seems to be going out to parties on the weekends without inviting you. You’ve tried joining a few clubs, maybe found one or two you are interested in, but aren’t really feeling like these people are your friends. As you scroll through Facebook, you find cute pictures of your Facebook “friends” and conclude, after looking at their new profile picture with some attractive UVA student, captioned something like “So glad I found you” or “Hoo knew you’d be my best friend,” that something is wrong with you because you haven’t found what they have found. You’re nervous; everyone else has adjusted to college life and you haven’t. Everyone has already formed their friend “groups;” did you miss your chance?
I know this is how many of you feel because this is my story. I blundered through first semester and most of second semester, not knowing what I was doing at UVA and who my friends were. I am a 2nd year, not some experienced UVA student, but I can share with you a profound piece of advice that I learned and that I struggle to remember on a constant basis: don’t compare your behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. People are really, really, really (and I mean really), good at portraying their life on social media and elsewhere as a life to be envious of. They post on Facebook cute pictures with people they met last week (perfect filter setting applied, of course), claiming that they have finally found their friends. Their Snapchat stories are filled with as many people as possible to demonstrate to those who are watching that they have made it. They want their families back home, their friends at other Universities, and their new “friends” to be impressed with the life they live. When they talk to you in person, they mention their 2200+ SAT scores, their A on the most recent Chem test, and tell you all about how awesome student leadership clubs are, many of them proudly proclaiming that they are on First Year Council, Student Council, and University Programs Council. And I bet, if you look at yourself hard enough, you have been doing the same thing, intent to try and show everyone else who seems to have “made it,” that you have as well. Once again, I know this because I have found myself guilty of this.
UVA has a lot of high achieving people; I get it. Many of us were valedictorians, presidents of our classes, and have already traveled to a third world country to help starving children multiple times with our church back home (with Facebook photos to prove it of course). I did none of these things; I got good grades, an average SAT score, and did a few extracurriculars back in High School. However, I still found a way to try and demonstrate to everyone else that I belonged at UVA (even though the mere fact I got in meant I did). The danger of displaying only your highlight reel to those around you, and of a community that accepts this as commonplace, is that it substantially raises the bar of what it means to be an average UVA student, even though what is being displayed as “average” is only the stellar parts of people’s lives. We constantly try to live up to this stellar ideal, thinking it is only average, and so, when we fail, we think we are below the rest of UVA, that we weren’t worth an acceptance, and that we somehow have less worth than those around us.
Don’t let this do to you what it did to me.
Don’t let it persuade you into thinking these fallacies I outlined above are actual truth; don’t let it wrap you up into the Culture of Competition, with students trying to out-do others in everything; don’t get your self-worth from whether you have friends yet; don’t let that chem test define you; and do not compare yourself to a non-existent, unobtainable bar of achievement. The fact is, the behind-the-scenes of everyone else at UVA is probably just as “bad” as yours. They barely know that friend in their profile picture and will probably only awkwardly say hi to them as they pass them on the street in a year from now (or even a semester); they’re only talking about that A in Chem because they’re getting worse grades in everything else; and their snap chat stories are only full of “friends” because they’re trying to hide the fact that they, too, are lonely.
First year is tough; it takes a while to really find your place at UVA, to find your friends. And, no, you haven’t missed your chance to do that, even if it seems like everyone else already has. Even after your first year, this will continue to be a struggle. Even though I can say I have made true friends; I can definitely say that I constantly compare myself to other’s highlight reels. Let’s stop this dangerous practice.
The first step is finding pride in yourself. Not haughty, arrogant pride, but pride in yourself as a human and as a worthwhile creation. To do this it is imperative to not compare yourself to the highlight reels of others.
The second step is finding humility. No, the first and second steps are not contradictory; humility means not bragging about yourself on social media and to your friends. By doing this, you add to the Culture of Competition and assist others in the depressing comparison game. It is important to celebrate your accomplishments, but finding humility means not letting your pride become a means of putting others beneath you, for they too are worthwhile creations.
These steps are not necessarily sequential, but can be taken at the same time or in reverse order. I am by no means a master at this, and wouldn’t even go as far to say I am “good” at it, but it is something that I think we should all try to do.
So, have patience. You will find friends; you will find your rhythm. School will get easier, or at least more manageable, and your grades this semester will not determine your worth. Neither compare your behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel nor boost your highlight reel to pretend to be something you are not. If we do this, if, as a student body, we make it our utmost goal to not let the culture of competition mean that the losers are crushed under the weight of our own accomplishments, then perhaps you, and I, will find more joy in ourselves, the life we live, the people we are with, and the school we go to.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” – Psalm 139:13-14