Advice for my Freshman Self

I’m about to begin my final semester at App State. My upcoming graduation has me feeling a little bit parental about the “baby” college students coming in. I keep being surprised by how self-assured and mature all the freshman students I have met with are. Hopefully they’ll be able to avoid a few of the mistakes that I have made in my last three years of college.

Let’s be real through -- I haven’t stopped making mistakes since then; I continue to make the same mistakes that I made my first semester here.

I wish someone had told me, when I moved into a dorm, that college is as much about growing into the person that you were meant to be as it is about picking up a degree. The ASU recreation center’s goal of making students “strong in mind, body and spirit,” is a very healthy approach I think to providing students with a holistic educational experience. I am happy to be able to say “thank you” to the App State community for supporting me as I worked toward achieving my goals of physical fitness, mental serenity, and spiritual exploration during my time going to school here.

Many of the lessons that I learned during my time at App have to do with relationship boundaries, managing money, dealing with conflict, and making time for my own health and well-being. Something that has dogged me persistently during the last few years has been procrastination and missed opportunities. Procrastination is generally a reaction to anxiety, lack of motivation, and obsessive need for my work to be the best possible. As someone with autism and a long history of depression and anxiety, beginning assignments or even leaving my house for campus can feel impossible or incredibly draining on some days.

Now I’m going to tell you one of the biggest ways that I’ve been able to get past this procrastination tendency. This is the simple concept encapsulated by the phrase, “perfect is the enemy of the good.” Basically, “good” can be attainable by not aiming to be perfect; when you aim too high, the fear of failure keeps you from even wanting to try something new. The feeling of paralysis that I experience when I am feeling overwhelmed by tasks, makes me want to put things off right up to the deadline. All of us want our time in college to be well spent on new experiences and learning, but sometimes our minds can keep us in worry-mode.

There are a few different methods I use to ease my mind out of a procrastination or perfectionism pit. One of these is to tackle my fear of performing poorly and stop comparing my abilities to other people. Everyone has different capacities to learn and complete assignments (this isn’t just positivity bullshit, it’s true), and the ultimate goal of education shouldn’t be to reward the top students, but to help all students, regardless of their learning-level, to grow as human beings.

Another way I overcome this handicap is to work on the assignment that I am most afraid of starting, first. Rather than spending my day thinking about how poorly I might do on a final project, I go ahead and start writing whatever comes to mind. I generally find that once I have started an assignment that I’ve been dreading, it ends up needing a lot less or a lot more work than I expected. If it turns out to be much easier, then you will be relieved that it is over with, and if it’s harder you’ll have more time to work on the tough parts.

One of the most effective methods that I often use to get past the initial inertia I feel at the beginning of an assignment is to establish good routines of studying. Studying with other people who have good study habits can be helpful too, as long as actual work still is getting done. Another aspect to this is enabling healthy study habits by planning enough time for meal breaks, exercise and sleep so that you feel comfortable.

I know that finding time for sleep and exercise can often be the hardest things to fit into your day. Knowing how hard it is to exercise, it can be helpful to commit to exercise by journaling, joining an intramural sports team, or signing up for a fitness class.

If I could send a message to my 18-year-old self, I would make sure to tell her that sometimes mistakes are okay. That sometimes anxiety and stress win, and that’s okay. Just because you made a bad grade on your math exam doesn't mean that you are a failure or that your life is over. If you get a bad roommate, it isn’t because you did something bad in a past life. It doesn’t have to be fate that set you up with a boy you met. You don’t have to continue being the person that everyone you grew up with knows you as. Experiment with yourself a bit, and find what makes you happy and don’t look back. Don’t let perfectionism stand in the way of you redefining yourself. Lastly, remember that in the grand scheme of life, it matters way less what our grades are, than whether we have compassion and can show it to others, and, most importantly, if we know how to show compassion for ourselves.