When I hear people say college was the best four years of their lives, they usually mention the classes they took with world-renowned professors, the lifelong friendships they made, and even the wild and crazy adventures they had. So far, I’m finding out that all of this is true, but what I couldn’t fathom before starting this new chapter of my life was how much I would change as a person.
My mom always likes to talk about how I used to hide between her legs as a baby whenever we had guests come over to our house, a shyness that never entirely left me as I grew up. In fact, it manifested into social anxiety that affected me both mentally and physically and permeated most aspects of my life: constant stomach aches on the way to school, feeling light-headed before a presentation, and an extra thirty minutes to find an outfit in the mornings. Eventually, as the days went by, this became my new normal.
When I arrived at Berkeley, I had some pretty big expectations. I had worked so hard for years to finally get to the place that would change my life. The reality was, coming to college didn’t magically change everything, the same feelings of anxiety, and internal pressure remained and even worsened as I was thrust into a new environment with no safety net around.
While staying hidden in my shell for a while, I soon realized that college can only be the best years of your life if you make them the best years of your life. While classes and professors exist, they only become amazing when you start to participate. Same with friendships and adventures, they only begin when you choose to step outside your comfort zone. Of course, these decisions are easier said than done and things didn’t immediately change for me until I finally figured out one day that the key was self-confidence.
I was holed up in the library one evening, preparing myself to write a final essay for a class that had challenged me the entire semester. As I had done my whole life, I waited until the last moment to start and finish this assignment. My misguided solution to the overwhelming pressure was procrastination. Knowing that someone would read and criticize my work had always scared me and forced me to approach things from the viewer's perspective rather than my own. What would my professor like to see on this paper? What’s the answer he’s looking for? A belief that had also fueled my social anxiety. Yet as I composed myself and began to look through my notes, it finally hit me.
Within my own writing, I saw knowledge of a complex topic and noticed my brain producing new thoughts and connections. At that moment, I realized that what really mattered was what I had to say about the topic, and evidently, I had a lot to say. So when I received my final grade, a note from my professor claimed that my writing was better than most graduate students he worked with. I accepted his praise because for once, I agreed.
In other words, what had finally given me the courage to speak up during classes was realizing there was value to my opinions. I recognized that people wanted to get to know me because I’m unique and I bring a new perspective to their lives. While this seems like a small discovery, finally acknowledging that I was a person of substance opened my eyes and changed my mindset. Now, instead of entering a scenario feeling and assuming the worst, I remind myself that I am where I am for a reason. While hard work can produce results, understanding your own capability and efforts will keep you going.
When I look back on the past two years of college, I can proudly say that I’ve never been happier and so thrilled with who I’ve become. Building my self-confidence has allowed me to grow into myself and most importantly, helped me learn how to love who I am.