It’s a strange feeling finishing your first year of college. You get the sense that somehow you should feel a lot more adult that you actually do. You scratch your head, wondering, “Wow, has it really been a year since we graduated?” And at the same time, last year seems so far away that you feel like you can’t even relate to it anymore. It’s disorienting, exhilarating, and melancholy all at once. I guess that’s how you grow up: it all seems to stay the same and fly by at the same time.
The first year of college, we’re told, is just a matter of adjustment. It’s a period of resetting your brain to function effectively in a new environment, one that may have a wildly different work ethic or value system than your high school did. It’s rarely a smooth adjustment, and, for many, it features a few bombed tests and some sleepless nights. Despite this, most people make it through with their grades and their health still in good standing.
Almost inevitably, our first year of college opens our eyes a little wider, and we say to ourselves, “I really wish I could redo high school knowing what I know now.” I’m no exception to this. I spent a lot of the fall semester trying to figure out just what exactly was expected of me. I spent most of it a little dazed, confused about the nature of my work and how it was judged.
It hit me about two-thirds through my fall semester. I realized then that I had been looking at not only my work, but work in general, in the wrong way. Basically, before college I’d come to think of my school work as a chore. My mentality was that work was only something that needed to be done and not something you could be emotionally attached to. Because of this, I had never really personally involved myself in my work. I never viewed work as something that could be a reflection of myself or that I could be aesthetically proud of. It was never something I thought I could enjoy.
In college, it becomes really difficult to continue this sort of work ethic. Because of the sheer volume of work and the importance placed on analysis, having an impersonal stance towards work just doesn’t make sense. College forces people, it forced me, for sure, to fully put themselves into their work, to view it with creative eyes, and to give it an importance that’s bigger than just academics. As it applied to me, I was forced to start caring about my work.
Strangely enough, once I did this, my work became a lot more enjoyable. And, more importantly, the quality of my work increased. In place of thoughtless attempts to meet minimum requirements, I had an honest willingness to do the work because it was now an opportunity to be creative. It became for me an outlet for self expression.
I really wish I had thought this way in high school. It would have made a pretty significant bulk of it a lot more enjoyable, and my grades would more than likely have been a bit better. Every year-end research paper, every book analysis, and every technology project wouldn’t have been a rock I carried around, putting off until the night before due date. They wouldn’t have been rushed, but rather seen as opportunities to think of something new. Most importantly, I would never have allowed myself to hate doing them.
The cool part about coming around to thinking this way is that it doesn’t involve some great effort or slow method; it’s just a matter of looking at things a little differently. To practice it, try to think of the work you’re given as a creative project rather than some plain duty. Knowing this in high school would have made things easier and less miserable, and I would’ve graduated with a better creative mind. But for now though, it’s made college that much better and easier.