7 Things I Learned from Freshman Year

In many ways, 2014 felt like the end of an epoch.

And as I headed back home for Winter Break after my first semester of college, I felt like a much-anticipated chapter of my life was coming to a close.

It’s surreal to think about, really.  What was previously the blank slate of your collegiate future is now 1/8th of the way filled with new experiences. The best part about being a freshman, though, is that after a month or more of self-reflection, you get a second chance at this whole “college” thing.

Second chances don’t come along all the time, but I had seven left. Seven semesters—seven second chances—and while we’re on the theme on seven, here are seven things I learned from my first semester of freshman year.

1. Don’t fret over your resume.

College is not high school. You shouldn't feel obligated to stick to one set of extracurriculars for all four years. In terms of activities, you have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, and to stop doing it if it no longer brings value to your life.

In the long run, it’s a better idea to do things that interest you than to do them for the sake of listing them on a piece of paper. Do what you think you’ll enjoy, even if you have no prior experience—you’ll expand your comfort zone, meet cool people, and learn something new along the way.

One caveat, though: don’t try to do *too* much at one time. Which brings me to my next point...

2. Learn how to say,

Despite the overwhelming number of events, opportunities, and organizations all vying for your attention on a daily basis, college shouldn’t be a game of “how many things can I fit into the blank spaces on my schedule?” In other words, your life should not resemble a game of Tetris. 

Think of your time as currency. If you had to spend it, you’d want to do so wisely. You'd want to make sure that you're only investing in the things that you truly care about, because otherwise you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin. Just because opportunities are laid out in front of you doesn't mean you should go chasing after all of them. Honestly, never underestimate the importance of taking down time for yourself. (Trust me, I learned this the hard way.)

3. Prioritize.

No matter how “busy” you get, you should make time for what’s important to you. 

For some, it’s studying. For others, it’s sleeping. Or partying. Or working out, or building robots, or even solving the global Ebola crisis.

Because everyone has different priorities, you may not understand why somebody else prioritizes their time the way that they do. The short answer is that they likely have life experiences and motivations that you do not have, and have attached a large part of their identity to whatever it is they can’t give up.

The flip side of this is that you can also tell a lot about people’s priorities based on what they don’t do. For example, if someone never texts you back, it’s probably because you’re not a priority in their life. Sad but true.

4. Make the effort to get to know people.

Harvard undergrads tend to lead very scheduled lives. While this isn't necessarily a terrible thing, it does mean that unless you make plans ahead of time to hang out/grab a meal/meet up for coffee, such plans probably won’t materialize organically.

Also, initiative is a skill that gets better with lots of practice. You can start small by inviting somebody to lunch. 90% of the time I’m the one reaching out to others, so I’m always very impressed when people reach out to me. Also, I follow a couple rules of thumb: I always try to reschedule if it turns out I can’t make something, and I always try to follow up if I say I’m going to do something. (In my book these are known as “courtesies,” but surprisingly few people follow them.)

5. Recognize that people are very perceptive.

Your classmates are incredibly shrewd judges of character. Depending on how observant they are, they might actually know you better than you know yourself.  

Countless times I’ve heard friends of mine capture the entire essence of another person in brief, often unintentional snippets of insight. It just goes to show that people are very good at reading other people, and that you can’t really hide the flaws in your character. 

6. Life is not a zero-sum game.

Learn from your peers, but don’t compare yourselves to them.

People have different strengths, different weaknesses, different talents, and different lifestyles. They also invest their time and energy in vastly different ways. Measuring apples against oranges doesn't really get us anywhere--what's more important is recognizing that each fruit is delicious in its own way.

And if you think about it, really, there’s a thousand different definitions of success. If you’re confident in your own abilities/worth while also valuing those of the people around you, everybody wins.

7. Enjoy yourself.

Sometimes you've just got to let loose and enjoy being at college.

So have fun, do your best, and live with no regrets.

Enough said!