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7 Things I Learned from Sophomore Year

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Harvard chapter.

Year two, and what a formative year it’s been.

I’ve studied, I’ve travelled, I’ve sought out new experiences, I’ve tested my limits and I’ve ruminated over my mistakes; I’ve listened, closely; I’ve waited, in vain; I’ve attempted to order chaos, I’ve successfully ordered lattes, I’ve remained stubbornly optimistic, and I’ve more or less come to terms with my flaws.

As a result, I’ve become a little bit wiser, a little more sure of what I want. Today I’m here to share that wisdom and certainty with you.

Last year I shared with Her Campus a few lessons learned from freshman year. To continue the tradition, here are seven things I’ve learned from my sophomore year of college.

1. Remember that life is about the things you do every day.

Fill in the blanks. This could be “study / get a good GPA,” “train / run a 5k,” “read / become a more interesting conversationalist,” ad infinitum. Point is, if you really really want something, you should be doing what it takes to get there, every day.

The key takeaway here is persistence. On a day-to-day basis, the returns on your investments are incremental at best. No one becomes a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist overnight.

But if you’re honest with yourselfand cognizant of what you’re doing on a daily basisthe end result should come as no surprise.

2. Always step delicately around fragile egos.

Most people believe they’re above average, a statistical impossibility.

Yet it doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, because we all have biased ideas of ourselves.

Maybe we think we’re smarter, better-looking, or more generous than we really are. Maybe we think that we have a really great sense of style, even if we consistently pair flip flops with salmon-colored shorts. Maybe we think we’re mysterious when we’re actually meek, charming when we’re actually crude, or amazing in bed when—well. You get the idea.

Nevertheless, step carefully around the egos of other people. Reality is harsh enough. If someone needs a reality check, ask yourself if you’re really the one who needs to give it to them. If not, let them play out their illusions and figure it out on their own time.

It might help them sleep at night, and God knows that college students don’t sleep enough as it is.

3. Learn how to climb ladders.

It seems like the most conventionally successful people are the ones who are best at climbing laddersa fascinating phenomenon that’s actually quite complex. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they climb.

Consider the following ladder-climbing metrics:

  • Selection: Some people pick easier ladders. Others pick ladders they are best suited to climb. Most, for better or for worse, go for the ladders that everyone else wants to climb.

  • Skill: Some are naturals at climbing ladders because they’re quick on their feet. Others have been trained to climb ladders their entire lives, and come equipped with special gear. Like the end of a rope that their buddy has thrown them. Or their oversized Canada goose.

  • Altruism: Some will give a hand to people who are struggling to reach the upper rungs. Others will “accidentally” step on their fingers, then light the ladder on fire as soon as they get to the top.

If you’re oblivious to the art of climbing, you’re probably not going to make it very far up that ladder. Learn from the first few times you fall, pick yourself up off the ground, then figure out how to get up there in your own special way.

Or if you’re sick of ladders you could always, you know, build a hot air balloon. Just a thought.

4. Hang on to (and out with) your friends.

Maybe last year you met someone cool from your entryway/lecture/club. Maybe you hit it off right away, hung out constantly, bonded over your love of Chipotle, and swore you’d stay in touch over the summer.

But this year?

You’re living on opposite ends of campus/no longer taking the same classes/quitting your mutual extracurricular activity. You’ve developed a tragic aversion to burrito bowls after eating nothing but Chipotle for 6 months. And texts that were answered with one too many ‘I’m busy’s’ eventually stopped lighting up your phone.

Don’t take your friends for granted. When you stop making an effort to hang out, you lose touch with the people you once cared a lot about. Before you know it, that stranger who turned into your best friend has turned back into a stranger, another victim of that weird sad alchemy we call life.

Which brings me to my next point.

5. Treat people well. Karma will take care of the rest.

It’s important to be mindful of how you interact with others, but there’s a happy medium between burning bridges (or ladders) and trying to please everyone you meet.

Want to hear a winning strategy? Just be nice.

Consider tit for tat, an iterative version of the prisoner’s dilemma. (Try it out here!)

The rules are simple. You can either cooperate with or default on your opponent, with varying payoffs. The highest payoff for you is to default on your opponent when the other cooperates; the lowest payoff is for both parties to default on each other; a happy medium is for both parties to cooperate.

Over the long term, selfish strategies tend to do very poorly, as do overly generous ones. Time after time, the best strategy is “tit for tat,” which involves cooperating the first time you meet your opponent, then always repeating their last move. A slightly better strategy is “tit for tat with forgiveness,” which occasionally gives your opponent the benefit of doubt by cooperating in spite of their previous default—potentially avoiding a long cycle of retaliation.

The key takeaways from thousands of iterations of tit for tat sound remarkably like winning strategies for life:

Forgive others. Don’t be a pushover. Don’t be a jerk. Just be nice.

6. Understand that rejection can be a good thing.

So you disappointed your parents. You were snubbed by a friend. You didn’t get the summer internship you wanted. You were stood up for a date.

Your family member / best friend / interviewer / romantic interest made you feel like you weren’t good enough, all in the same day. It seems like nobody cares about what you have to offer, and nothing is going your way.

But all is not lost. Once you hit rock bottom, you have nowhere to go but up.

Even though it’ll hurt more at the outset, you’re much more likely to learn from rejection than from success. If you’re a mature and responsible adult, once you uncurl from your fetal position on your dorm room floor you will survive, you will appreciate the lessons that rejection has taught you, and you will grow from the experience.

Be grateful and take it in stride. Occasionally you’ll miss a step in dress rehearsal so you can shine when it’s time to dance.

7. Breathe.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale again.

Ever wonder why even the best runners can’t sprint marathons? It’s because sprints are anaerobic by nature. They’re short-lasting and high-intensity because your body’s demand for oxygen exceeds its available supply. In order to run a marathon, you have to be able to breathe.

Remember to schedule breathing room into your life, in everything from your classes to your relationships to your favorite activities. Going from 0 to 60 every day without allocating space for oxygen is a classic formula for burnout.

So inhale. Exhale. Inhale again.

And keep goingthe finish line is (almost) in sight!

Yehong Zhu '18 is a joint philosophy and government concentrator in Mather House. Her writing has been featured on Forbes, Slate, Thought Catalog, Business Insider, The Crimson, The Harvard Independent, and The Harvard Political Review. When she's not busy writing, she can be found downing chai tea lattes, exploring the quaint college town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and philosophizing about life, love, and the universe. Say hi at yehongzhu@college.harvard.edu.
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