Before getting into campus, one fantasizes about the place so wildly, at least by my experience. There are those so many things one is told about campus while in high school – the immense freedom, the fun, the parties, relationships, ‘crews’ and so on – that you can’t wait to get there and ‘get free’. But there is one thing they usually forget to tell you about campus, something that is kind of ‘the other polar end’ of the freedom paradise, and that something is that campus is a place of self-discovery. It is the transitional place between high school where one has very limited freedom and limited choices on one side and adult life where one has total freedom and endless choices on the other side. If you ask me, I’d say that campus is like a rite of passage, only that in this rite, you are both the initiate and the teacher and the master of ceremony. You are moving from one level to another and you are the one guiding yourself through the transition.
In campus, you find people from all walks of life, all classes of society, all religions and beliefs, all passions and hobbies and everything. And you are free to follow whichever you prefer. With this freedom comes the heavy responsibility of discovering oneself, lest you get lost in all the chaos. In campus there will also be trends every time, coming and going. And of course, there are many many programs to choose from to study, though for this, it is usually rather a small issue because people enter campus after choosing a program to study there. By choosing one program out of many, you have taken a step towards self-discovery, a step in a miles-long journey. But it may be a step you may have to retrace once you get a bit further into the journey of self-discovery depending on where your path takes you.
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If you are like me, you probably started thinking seriously about the direction your life would take once you left high school in your final high school year. That’s good. But if not, if you didn’t think about it before leaving high school, if you haven’t thought about it yet even now, no problem. The journey towards self-discovery is not an easy one, and certainly, it is not clearly defined and has no time spans or deadlines. Everyone has their own pace and their own experiences that guide them, which are vastly different.
Most of campus life is about making decisions. Seeing that you are immediately from high school where you were very restricted and most decisions were made for you, having to choose now on so many things can be daunting for many people. Or where the individual decides to brave the choices, they may end up picking just the ones that are bad for them. You need not be scared about making many and big decisions, and you also should not go at them with an out-of-the-roof cockiness. The best decisions are made when one is calm, free from any external influences, especially emotions – martial art masters can assure you that.
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It is best to first of all define your interests, abilities, your social and emotional needs. You don’t have to be right about your abilities and interests the first time, or the second. No one is ever right about these at first. Just pick something and work with it. You know yourself enough to start somewhere. Then as you make your choices, trust yourself as your own judge; trust your choices. This isn’t to mean that you won’t make bad choices, no. you will surely make them, that’s a given. But it’s better to make wrong choices, learn from them and quickly move on than to waste time fretting over making bad choices. Defining your interest and needs eliminates the others and allows you to focus on the chosen ones. It saves you from hopping from here to there to there with no clear goal and also saves you time you’d have spent at the side-lines just watching instead of getting in the game. Express your needs, seek out the right support to maximize your potential.
When it comes to self-discovery, one ingredient that is very essential is courage and audacity. Yeah. apparently, it takes a lot of courage to discover yourself. Logically it looks ironic, but anyone who took this road can attest to this. You will need to be bold enough to step out of your comfort zones and do things you haven’t done before. In high school and before that, you didn’t have to leave your comfort zone so much because usually there was nowhere else to go to, or the path was just trodden by everyone, so there was really nothing like new territory to explore on your own. In campus, and later in life, you have to do things alone, and without being compelled. That takes courage, and it is what leads to self-discovery. A sheep can never discover itself while in the herd, under the control of the shepherd.
While it may be a bit disquieting that self-discovery isn’t a straightforward process, it need not bother you much. There are constructive things you can be doing in the meantime which the older you will be happy that the younger you did. If I may borrow from the book Ikigai by Sebastian Marshal, here’s a set of general advice:
- Start to study and develop your own ethical system.
- Make good friends, advisors and mentors who are strong and decent people. Campus is a very ripe place for this.
- Learn universally useful skills. These may include social skills like the art of negotiation, other practical skills like financial literacy, or coding or even martial arts. The list is long.
- Get a few credentials.
- Study history to learn what is possible. You don’t know what’s possible unless you study history. You could also extend this to studying notable people; maybe leaders, businessmen, artists etc., by reading their biographies for instance.
- Establish good habits that will carry you through your life.
- Become very fit and healthy.
- Learn how to think. You could do this by reading a book on philosophy, or a discourse on a particular subject, or other kinds of books. I noticed that writing too helps a lot in clearing and streamlining your thinking.
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In the end, I go back to where I started: when you land in campus you land in a place of unlimited choices, but you also land on a platform of people hackers. If you are not careful, you will get hacked. If you don’t know yourself, you will get hacked.
Know thyself. You realize that in campus as in the outside world, there will be very many people, many events, many products competing for your attention, time and money. It gets increasingly chaotic in this world where every day more new products are released and more new trends arise. It’s as if you are walking down a hallway packed on each side with crowds of people shouting, everyone calling to you to check out their product, their idea etc. everyone is marketing something, and they want you to buy. In such a world it is easy to get lost in all these advertisements, checking each one out. It is hard to keep ones focus on themselves and their goals.
As a parting shot, my simple distilled advice for those stepping into campus life is that you should become obsessed with your identity.
Written by Gachewa Ra
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