First Year Focus: Deciding and thriving

Knowing that you’re pursuing something you’re not the most suited for and taking a step to change that are two different things

Speeding across campus on a freezing winter day when you realize you only left 10 minutes for a 20-minute walk, first-year anxieties seem a far-off concern. More than half way through the school year, many first-years have confronted many of the challenges of transitioning to college already. Whether it’s joining a club you never thought you’d be interested in, or stepping out of your comfort zone to expand your friendship circle, we’ve all had to take steps toward adjusting to college life. One particular type of adjustment that I’ve seen many of my peers making is becoming comfortable with making authentic decisions.

By authentic decisions, I mean deciding to quit activities and classes that don’t resonate with you, and pursuing others that bring you joy instead. An example of an authentic decision is deciding to pursue classes and activities that bring you joy, despite the fact that it is not a “useful” class or is something others may look down upon as a waste of time.

Most of us had to fight through competitive high school environments to make it to the top and get accepted into Vandy. Unfortunately, I think a lot of us started this year with the same mentality, forcing ourselves to join what we considered the most prestigious clubs, or go through with the pre-med plan. However, I’ve noticed a substantial change is many first-years from the beginning of first semester to now. Many have chosen to do away with activities and classes that were unfulfilling, boring or caused an unreasonable amount of stress and were an arguably tortuous experience.

What I admire most about these first-years who have decided to make this transition from pursuing what they “should,” to what they really want to, is the courage it takes to make these decisions. With peer pressure, parent pressure and societal pressure to excel in a certain way to be “successful,” veering off the accepted path is scary. That’s why I’ve been so encouraged and inspired by those who have decided to leave the pre-med track (or science altogether) even though it’s been their dream to be a doctor since they were five because it simply wasn’t right for them. One of my friends switched from being a philosophy major to becoming a computer science major because she thought it’d be fun and was always something she wanted to pursue but didn’t have a chance to. Others have discovered that HOD is a better fit for their interests and goals than econ.

Knowing that you’re pursuing something you’re not the most suited for and taking a step to change that are two different things; there often seems to be a great chasm between realizing you’re not living the way you want and actually taking the steps to right that. To make things worse, making authentic decisions are often met with resistance and words of caution from others. I love seeing first-years who, despite all the pressure to conform to a path that they “should” take, choose to step out into the unknown and embrace what they truly love.

Stepping away from any plan can be difficult. As a first-year, there is already so much uncertainty and change. Choosing to step away from a concrete academic plan is a bold move that should be met with encouragement from others, not judgement. I think we tend to underestimate and underappreciate that tremendous amount of courage it takes to be truthful to who you are and your interests. I’m encouraged by those who have chosen to forge a new path that is right for them despite the uncertainty, fear and disappointment such a decision often brings. I hope we can all learn to encourage each other in our individual journeys to make authentic decisions instead of judging each other.

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