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Stepping out of your comfort zone: Find yourself

By Jaime Viens | For The Pitt News

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Perhaps you were a sheltered adolescent like I was.

Perhaps you were one of many teens who believed that, despite being supported by your parents in every way possible, teen angst and a resentment of your social, political and economic upbringing exempted you from the necessity of “finding yourself” in college.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe you are one of the few confident, self-assured individuals who is in touch with themselves inside and out. You still may not know the people and places around you — and, I promise, you’re missing out.

Here’s the barrage of questions and comments you’re likely to face for the next four to eight years: “Where do you go to school again?” “What’s your major?” “What kind of job will you get with that?” “You know, I read an article about a girl who studied what you’re studying… ”

If you haven’t been on the receiving end of that interrogation yet, you will be very soon. What you truly want to say is, “Thanks for your help, Debra. I’m sure you’re right. That woman’s study of dentistry and my study of cultural anthropology are definitely comparable!” But all you can really muster is, “I have no idea, but it’ll work out.”

Even if you think you know yourself — that your high school experience really was enough to set you up for the rest of your life — you don’t have to know the answers to those questions. You don’t have to come into school knowing who you are or what you want to be.

But you should come into school with an open mind ready to take on the unknown. You should use college as an opportunity to explore as much as possible.

At the beginning of college I attached myself to the first group of people I met — the ones who lived on my dormitory floor. It was as easy as it was comfortable and they were always a few steps away when I needed someone.

I eagerly signed up for clubs and activities that sparked my interests while promising myself I’d follow through with them. But as each meeting passed, I fell into the same excuses: I have too much work, I’m too busy and I already have friends.

I watched the fresh optimism I once had disappear as I lay in my bed, alone, binge-watching “The Office” for the fourth time.

I didn’t recognize my mindset as the problem.

Then sophomore year rolled around. I was in a single apartment in a new building about 10 minutes away from campus. It just so happened that I lived in the only room on a vacant floor.

It hit me hard. There was no simple way to make friends this time around. So I continued on with the same friends I made from my first- year floor — the only friends I had. Instead of challenging myself to reach out, I took the easy route.

I frequently found myself alone. The more time I spent by myself, the more I realized how little I actually had in common with the people I hung out with the most.

And thus, I began my journey into adulthood and self-sustenance watching “SpongeBob Squarepants” sprawled across an old roommate’s couch on a Friday night.

My closest friendships were based on a level of accessibility rather than any commonality or connection. I was willfully staying in rather than finding new places to explore. I was doing what I already knew rather than searching for new experiences.

So I made a decision to do something I had never before considered, where I would have no choice but to follow through without looking back..

What started as a fix to my static routine became the thrill of a lifetime: New Zealand. I spent a full semester of sophomore year abroad, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I made new friends who shared my interests. We were all equally lost in a new environment. We spent time with each  other because we enjoyed each other’s company, not because it was convenient.

None of us had any idea what we were doing or where we were going. We were left to forge our own relationships, to learn about cultures and to find our own way around. Unlike my first year, I didn’t stop trying once I’d found a few companions. I was in a whole other country, so I kept looking around — I kept leaving my room.

College is not a time to learn “independence” by locking yourself away and watching Netflix. College is a time to take advantage of opportunities — most of which you will never be offered again. It’s a time to join clubs, assist in research, participate in a rally or protest, volunteer and work hard.

If you’re a physics major, take History of Jazz. If you’re a sworn Democrat, sit in on a Pitt College Republicans meeting. If you’ve never dabbled in any religion, check out a local church group. And if you’ve never left the country, study abroad.

You, self-assured college newbie, are making your own calls now. But run them by your parents first before you, inevitably, join the rest of us still supported financially by our parents with only $2.75 in our bank accounts.

Write to Jaime at jrv28@pitt.edu

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Stepping out of your comfort zone: Find yourself