Keys to Happiness: Finding a Niche in College and Beyond

Picture this—you’re on a college visit strolling through the picturesque quad of your future home, amazed by the elaborate buildings, sprawling campus and all-encompassing energy of independence and freedom. Fast forward a few months and…things weren't quite as picture perfect as your enthusiastic guide gushed. Let’s be honest, college is a huge transition, and depending on the person, it can take a whole lot of adjusting that can be extremely difficult. Throughout my first couple months in college, I’ve met more people than I ever could have imagined and started the transition to life on my own, but not without my fair share of self-doubt and uncertainty. Leaving everyone and everything that you’ve ever known behind is a world-rocking experience, but learning to fight through fear and ambiguity may be one of the most valuable traits that we can develop. “Finding your place” can be an ominous process, but here are three things I’ve learned that may bring you a little closer.

1. Be outgoing, but be you

Especially during the first few weeks, there is a lot of pressure to be more social, maybe more than you ever have been before, and this isn’t totally a bad thing! However, make sure you leave time to be with yourself and recharge because there is a fine line between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying to be something you’re not. In order to be able to reflect on that, you have to be honest with yourself in terms of who you are and your physical and emotional needs. It is so easy to feel like you aren’t doing as much as you should, in any given area of college life, but you can’t do everything! All of what you see on social media isn’t necessarily what really happened, and remember that no one ever posts about the long nights of studying or chill nights in with a movie—it doesn’t mean they don’t happen! There will be moments when you feel pressured to do something, or to act a certain way, but you have to trust that there are people out there who will accept you, which is why you have to keep looking for them.

2. Give it time

If you’re anything like me, you like to get things done and solve problems in the moment. Unfortunately, people don’t work like that and connections with people in a new place will probably take a little bit more time than you budgeted. You have to remember that you just went through a major life change, so creating a new routine and finding familiar faces will all take more than a few weeks. Use that time to get comfortable with yourself. Don’t be afraid of being alone. People often associate independence with romantic relationships, but it most definitely translates into friendships as well; you are your own person and can be happy as one too. It can be really hard to feel like you aren’t living up to the “best four years of your life” stigma all of the time, but life isn’t a movie; there are hiccups and stalls. Despite all of this, getting involved in organizations and clubs, that mean something to you, is a great way to bring yourself around people who you have something in common with. College is stressful, but any time you may find yourself wishing time away, remember that these are the next four years of your life, so invest in it, care about it, care about yourself and you’re worth it. Your own version of the “best four years of your life” is out there, if you are open to finding it.

3. Don’t overthink it!

For me, this one really came back to the absolutely horrible habit of comparing yourself with others. The more that other people’s lives are in your head, the more unclear your own path will seem, and there’s enough natural uncertainty as it is! Let people come and go as they will, the best ones will stick around. Let that one bad assignment go, there will be many (too many) more opportunities to try again, and lastly, let people help you. It’s okay to share your struggles just as much as your triumphs. Most college campuses have a plethora of resources to help in any aspect of your life, that you feel needs attention, so take care of yourself! The more you analyze your every step and your every word, the harder your journey towards complete happiness and contentment will seem. My advice for this (although I’ll admit, I’m still working on this one) is to do something or talk to someone that grounds you. What I mean by this, is that you feel centered, refocused, and reminded of who you are and how worthy you are to receive everything you want out of this experience. Once you realize that you are not any lower on the totem pole than anyone else, it can be easier to overcome your own mental limits.

While college does encompass all of the promised freedoms and independence that you’ve probably dreamed of for so long, there is a whole lot that could never have been explained in that campus tour you got junior year of high school. It’s a lot of work to create a balanced life for yourself that succeeds in all of the areas that you’d like it to, but when it all feels like too much, remember that you are on a journey that will be full of victories, mistakes and discoveries and none of it is wrong. Finding your niche is an ongoing process that requires a lot of patience and self-assurance, but pushing yourself a little out of your comfort zone, giving it time, and trying not to overthink, are three things that I have found to help. It is so much easier said than done, but being not only okay, but being proud of who you are and all that you’ve accomplished to get to this point, is essential when it comes to putting your best foot forward. Hopefully, at the end of these four years we’ll all be able to look back and realize that “courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” -Nelson Mandela

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