When my Lehigh acceptance letter arrived, I was overcome with feelings of exhilaration, which soon turned into a mix of trepidation as well. I thought “What if I won’t be able to perform to my expectations, fit in socially or simply get lost in the life on campus? After all, Lehigh is a prestigious university with rigorous academic standards and an accomplished student body.”
As it happens occasionally, your feelings don’t lie. My college experience became periodically punctuated by anxieties stemming from not just the work load and striving for achievement, but the general atmosphere on campus. There was constant chatter of jobs that were secured, internships that were obtained or graduate schools were students were accepted to. The competition was palpable and students championing their individual selves only made me more insecure.
It wasn’t like this in high school. I excelled in my classes and enjoyed academic confidence. The teachers also knew me and they cared about me. The competition among kids was there, but it was limited and had a different dimension. There was no fear of the future, or concerns about taking the right path in life. Everything appeared to be reversible, so if the wrong decision was made, I could then change gears. But all that changed in college.
Fortunately, at Lehigh other aspects of campus life made up for the stress that came along with being in a population pool of smart and ambitious kids: good friends, enjoyable activities, exciting sports, interesting professors and a general stimulating environment. I noticed that this is life at Lehigh, at little bit of everything whether I cared for it, or not.
However, over time I realized that my dislikes of certain college realities also stemmed from my own personality. Unnecessarily, I was hyper-attuned to what other students were saying or how they were behaving. Instinctively, I would see them as over-achievers in my mind, while I would place myself in a lower category. Some of their comments were just self-promotion college kid bravado, whether real, exaggerated or made up. But I didn’t see it that way at the time, and I had to learn to remain self-confident in this goal-oriented culture.
It wasn’t easy, but if I wanted the caliber of education that Lehigh provided, then I would have to scale down my sensitivities. I did not want to fall into a discouraging state by comparing myself with other students, or from hearing passing comments on grades, careers, etc. A greater appreciation of my own capabilities became an education in itself. A Lehigh degree meant good professional opportunities after college, so I had to set my sights straight and overcome these self-inflicted anxieties.
My father explained to me that the realities of life are similar and we all need to learn to manage our vulnerabilities accordingly. We simply have to accept the fact that there is always someone who is more intelligent, more accomplished, more attractive, or more financially stable than we are. But in the end, when we stand in our caps and gowns, we each have our own individual skills and interests that we will carry for years after our Lehigh experience.
Perhaps easier said than done, tackling the confidence challenge involves finding personal strengths and likings, staying focused and determined, and flushing out artificial distractions that weigh us down. The latter was particularly my issue.
Is it real? Is it meaningful? Is it important? If not, then why should it bother me? I should flush it out of my system. Not a bad formula for some of those rough moments.