A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an op-ed entitled “Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend”: tidbits of practical advice for the first year of college from TAs around the country. I thought this was a cool idea — maybe just because I am a complete sucker for advice pieces — but some part of me really did want to know what I should be doing. After all, I’m a sophomore, and even though I’m supposed to have all this freshman year confusion figured out, I still don’t have a “thing” that I do at school — or really know who I am yet. So I read on.
“College is your chance to see what you’ve been missing, both in the outside world and within yourself. Use this time to explore as much as you can.”
This already sounded familiar — the name of the college-advice game is exploration and experimentation. This author, Tim Novikoff, was no exception.
“Take classes in many different subjects before picking your major.”
This I had definitely tried last year. So as it turns out, Tim would have prescribed me the same list that I came up with on my own …
“Somewhere in your childhood is a gaping hole. Fill this hole. Don’t know what classical music is all about? That’s bad.”
Tim, we speak the same language. Enter stage right: MUSI 112: “Listening To Music.” It is a great class, whether or not you have a knack for music. But by the end the semester, I still couldn’t tell the difference between a piccolo and a flute, minor and major. On the bright side, I had figured out that I was deaf to multiple octaves. But “Listening To Music” was not the evidence that New York Times Tim and I were on the same wavelength.
He continued: “I was originally a theater major but by branching out and taking a math class I discovered I actually liked math.”
This was sort of my reasoning behind taking astronomy, except that I didn’t come to realize that I was truly gifted with the ways of the stars. I knew that I had always enjoyed reading my horoscope and looking for the Big Dipper at night with my mom. What if astronomy was my calling after all? Unfortunately, astronomy was a far cry from finding your soulmate by peering at moving celestial bodies. The night that we went to the observatory I thought it would all fall into place, that maybe I could finally gain an appreciation for all the equations we’d been learning; but the stars and galaxies just looked like butter smudges through the telescope lens. I was still lost. But of course Tim had a remedy for the my-classes-are-making-me-feel-like-I’m-in-a-rut problem: “Never been much of a leader? Try forming a club or a band.”
Now this was just getting ridiculous. There are about 50 billion clubs at this school. I was not going to invent some club just to make myself president of something for the first time in my life. Last year, someone joked that I could be president of the “stop-and-chat” club. What could I do as president? See friends on the street, stop and chat. Though I liked the idea, somehow I don’t think that this is quite what Tim was envisioning in his article.
All I wanted freshman year was for someone to tell me what I had to do to find my place at Yale and feel fulfilled. But the truth is that all the things that Tim and everyone else tell you to do don’t actually make finding yourself easier. And nobody had told me that once I got here, the enormity of Yale might swallow me whole.
So here is my advice for making it through: Do not think that your happiness in college has to come from finding yourself right away or trying new things right off the bat. You can experience the wide world beyond without changing who you are. I wish that Tim and others had told me that, really, it’s okay to work off of what I already know about myself. You don’t have to try a million new things at Yale; in fact, you don’t need to try anything new until you’re ready to. It’s okay to be tone-deaf and club-less and clueless about the moon. At least for a little while.
As for other advice? If they don’t change the toilet paper in your suite, steal a box from the basement of Welch. It’s much easier than going back for individual rolls.
Maddie Broder is a sophomore in Morse College.