The Character Movement

Samantha and friends outside a building on a college campus

College lesson #1: Be Myself

By Samantha HoangLong, Youth Frontiers’ 2016 Character Award Winner

A month ago, I started my freshman college experience. Of course, I was nervous for this new start. I worried about many things – Would I get along with my roommates? Would I like my classes? My professors? Most of all, I wondered, “What would people think of me?”

I asked myself this question a lot during Welcome Week, a week filled with school-organized events to give incoming first-year students the chance to mingle and learn more about the campus. During all the Welcome Week activities, I felt an enormous amount of pressure to make a memorable first impression on the other students.  I pushed myself past my comfort zone to meet as many people as possible. Any time I was in a group with people I didn’t know, I’d be the first one to ask them their names, where they were from and what they were studying. I reacted to whatever they said with overly happy and preppy responses. 

I worked hard to be liked, which meant, in my mind, that I needed to appear completely “normal.” I wore “basic” – socially acceptable – clothes and acted like everyone else. I tried really hard to analyze people’s faces as I met them to see if they wanted to talk to me. If I felt a negative vibe from the person, I would change my personality to fit what I thought they wanted me to be. 

After continuously meeting strangers all day, I would always leave Welcome Week events with this feeling of dissatisfaction. Was I being genuine and kind during these icebreakers, or did I come off as fake? None of my efforts felt like it had an impact. But I wanted to make an impact. 

When I took a moment to look around, I realized that everybody was in the same position as I. This is the time in our lives when we are trying to learn who we really want to be. We’re not only choosing our career paths, but also our friends and our identities. I started questioning why I was trying so hard to be someone else. 

I decided that it shouldn’t feel stressful to be myself around others and that I didn’t need to know everyone. I really only needed a couple of good friends who would support me in college. I stopped trying so hard to meet random people and started focusing on getting to know those who were already around me on a deeper level. 

Being at college has made me realize that you can’t really be “normal.” Normal is a setting on a washing machine, not in our personalities. Everyone is different. We all have our own traits and experiences that make us special in our own ways. I’ve come to embrace myself for who I am: an outgoing person with a curious mind. I’m excited to see what other lessons college will teach me.

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