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Advice for my first-year self: Finding yourself

Part two of our 2023 special series features stories of students facing fears, finding freedom, embracing uncertainty, and overcoming doubt.

Advice for my first-year self: Finding yourself

College can be an amazing time of personal growth and self-discovery. But the journey is not always easy and the path is never very clear. So as our special summer series continues, we have short stories about students facing fears, finding freedom, embracing uncertainty, and overcoming self-doubt.

Because figuring out who you really are takes time and effort. And it’s an adventure that often begins by realizing that nobody has it all figured out just yet.

Part one of our special series, Advice for my first-year self: Finding community, is also available now.

Scan the QR code below to listen on your phone. 

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Read the transcript

Speaker 1 The views and opinions expressed in this podcast by the hosts and guests may or may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Miami University.

Speaker 2 Freshman year I came in undecided.

Speaker 3 I'm finance, entrepreneurship, anthropology. 

Speaker 4 I'm a senior architecture student.

Speaker 5 I'm involved in the blockchain club here.

Speaker 6 I'm very passionate about studying abroad.

Speaker 7 Classes are going great.

Speaker 8 And then obviously very involved with my sorority.

Speaker 7 I'm thriving.

Meredith Aliff Hi, I'm Meredith Aliff and this is major insight. This is the podcast where we talk college life with amazing students about how to find your place and purpose on campus. College can be an amazing time of personal growth and self-discovery, but the journey is not always easy and the path is never very clear. As our special summer series continues, we have stories from students about facing fears, finding freedom, overcoming self-doubt and more. Because figuring out who you really are and what you treasure most takes time and effort. And it's an adventure that often begins by realizing that nobody really has it all figured out just yet.

Ryan I'm Ryan Rosu, who I'm a junior majoring in English literature, philosophy and film studies.

Meredith Aliff What would you say to your senior yourself in preparation for college?

Ryan I would say you'll do the academic stuff. There is no doubt that you'll care about all of your studies. But college, I think, is about developing yourself as an individual and figuring out who you really are. Because I think I felt very directionless in high school. I knew I wanted to do film, but I don't think I knew who I was. And so the further I've gotten in my studies, the more I know who I am and how I want to be. And so that sort of self-awareness and knowing your place and understanding ... and then the understanding that comes with that of other people and who are figuring themselves out is the key to a happy life. I think. Knowing yourself and knowing how others are and just this radical act of understanding is the only way to really find fulfillment. Otherwise you're sort of just searching for an answer and you can fill it just with meaningless things -- not going out, not really making connections with people. And you kind of just have to be honest and authentic and people appreciate that and they respond to that. And if you do that, things will be okay. There will be hard moments. Life is unavoidable. But once you have that sense of self, it's really profound. I think. Just to be alive.

Meredith Aliff That's so cool. Love it. Great advice.

Zoe My name is Zoe Neubig. I'm a studio art major and I'm an artist.

Meredith Aliff I love it. I absolutely love it. Okay, so looking back, what is the single best decision that you have ever made in college? One thing.

Zoe I feel like me just deciding one day at the very last minute to change my major at the time that was most inconvenient for pretty much anyone that was trying to help me was probably the most important decision of my life. I think that if I would have continued down that path, I would be a completely different person. And that's not to say that I wouldn't enjoy my job or enjoy my major, but I think it would have always felt like I was putting a real part of myself aside. And I think that making that choice and just slowly kind of coming around to recognizing that, like, you can be an artist and that's all that you have to be, you don't have to justify it to anybody. You don't have to explain it to anybody, like, just taking yourself seriously enough to ... to devote all of your time to it has been the best decision of my life.

Meredith Aliff I love that answer. That's a great answer. Last question. Pieces of advice that you would either if you could talk to yourself or just anybody, end of senior year, beginning of freshman year, what would you say to them about college in general?

Zoe I would say talk less, listen more. And every aspect of ... this is such a wonderful time for you to be able to get to know people and to learn. And honestly, I come across a lot of people in college that want to be the smartest person in the room. And one of the hardest things is realizing that, like, you're here to learn, which seems like it might be an easy answer. You're literally here for school, but I think a lot of people kind of try to come in and and know everything already. And I think one of the best things that you can do is just be open and listen to what people have to say. And that's true for your classes and that's true for friendships and that's true for making really valuable connections for your career. Like, just be more open to learn from other people and they will teach you everything you need to know.

Ben My name is Ben Maldonado. I'm senior computer science and data science major. I don't know. I like to rock climb. Woo-hoo.

Meredith Aliff Nice! So what is this singular best decision that you've made in college?

Ben Okay, this is my answer. Everyone always talks about, like when you come to college, how you got to be open to new things. Right. And that's very good. I'm a huge proponent of saying that. 

Meredith Aliff Yes.

Ben But when it actually comes down to doing the openness and making hard decisions, people usually shy away from that. And it's, like, really hard. I had done mock trial in high school for four years, and then I was like, you know, Miami has ... At that time, they had just won Nationals. So Miami has a great mock trial program. Here we go. Another bonus point for Miami. I did that for a semester and then I left. I was like, I don't know, it's for me.

Meredith Aliff Okay. 

Ben And then COVID hit. And over that COVID, I was like, maybe I made the wrong decision. Maybe I left too early and didn't give it the right shot. Then I rejoined and I re-realized why I left in the first place. And so I left again. And let me tell you, like leaving that second time was a gut punch, because I always like to try to be like a person of my word. And during the, like, interviews when I was coming in, they were like, How do we know you're not going to leave again? And I was like, I'm here. I'm set to go. I'm set to stay. And then to leave again. I felt like just the worst person. I felt like I'm not true to my word. I'm not being myself. I'm just a quitter.

Meredith Aliff Yeah. 

Ben But as a result of making that decision, which I still think is the right decision for me, I was able to go and find so much more, so many more things that I wouldn't have had time for. I wouldn't have had time to join Alpha Psi Lambda or to take part in some of the recreational leagues that I'm a part of now. It's just... Those are things that I very much value and that are like core parts of my life now. But because I was afraid to take the step of, like, actually opening myself up to that, I almost didn't experience these things. That's not to say that you should quit when things get hard. But that is to say that when you do realize that something is good or bad for you, you should commit to that decision.

Meredith Aliff Right. Obviously you felt one way about it at the time, but looking back, it was the best decision for you in that moment. Final question for you. If you could talk to yourself or someone in the position of beginning to start college, you have no idea what to expect. What advice would you give to somebody in that position?

Ben Believe. 

Meredith Aliff Okay.

Ben I watched this video recently and it was like, you know, how would I redo my computer science education? And the number one thing he said is like, it's not about how much you know or like whether or not you know X, Y, Z new library in the newest, hottest language. It's about whether or not you believe that when there's a problem you don't know how to solve, you can Google it and figure it out. So you just have to believe that whenever you encounter that problem, whenever you encounter that obstacle, or thing you don't know, that you can encounter it, you can get over it, you can figure it out, and you can move on past it.

Victoria So my name is Victoria Lopez Rangle, and I'm majoring in speech pathology with a combined degree major in Spanish. 

Meredith Aliff If you could go back to yourself coming in as a freshman, what would you tell yourself? What would be some pieces of advice to give yourself like, Hey, it's all good because you get to right here.

Victoria There is a lot I would say to myself, I don't know, I've just learned so much. My older sister told me, like, at the time, when I was a freshman, like, Hey, you're 18. Like, you don't need to be so hard on yourself. You don't need to have your future figured out, like, you're just becoming an adult now. And that really stuck with me. And if I were to go back and, like, tell myself, I'd just be like, Hey, like, you've got this. Like, it's okay to, like, feel a bit overwhelmed, but you're going to find the right people and you're on the right path. It's okay. Like, don't give up. You're going to make it through it.

Meredith Aliff Definitely like you're on the right track because you made it here.

Victoria I feel like I didn't know what to expect in college, but I felt like I was just so hard on myself. I was like, Wow, I need to have a polished résumé. I need to join different clubs. I need to try to be the best of the best and, like, get involved, show that I have leadership skills and all that. I was just being so hard on myself and I'm like, now I realized, you know, I'm kind of happy that I didn't accomplish certain things because I've accomplished way more than I thought I could. And everything happens for a reason. Timing was perfect. So I think now I think I'm more, like, go with the flow. That's something that I learned on my study abroad trip is that you can't really control things sometimes. And I know that's kind of like, duh, like you can't control things, but like, sometimes I feel like we just become so attached to something we want it to be ... like, make the outcome, like, have it our way, basically. So I feel like now I'm just like, I feel like I'm more chill, I guess, I'm laid back trying to think about like, it's okay. Like, I don't have to be so hard on myself. Things will happen for a reason. Things will come into my life. Things will go out of my life for a reason. So ... yeah.

Charlotte So my name is Charlotte Perez. I am a current senior here at Miami University. I'm a theater major. I have a minor in social justice. I'm getting a certificate in fostering just communities. So I do a lot of theater stuff, a lot of social activism. That's pretty much it.

Meredith Aliff That's amazing. Well, let's think about somebody or yourself, but somebody for four years behind you. What would your advice be to them?

Charlotte In general. Follow your intuition. Tour your schools. Look at their stats. Call the departments you're interested in and really follow your intuition. If you go to a place that you know you're going to love the teachers, you're going to love the environment that you're going to be in, that's going to help you be who you want to be. And the same goes for your major, or whatever you want to study. You want to find something in your life that you know you're going to like and you know you're going to be passionate about. And if you don't know, that's okay. If you come into college your first year and you're undecided, that's not a problem. You can take a lot of gen ed classes during that time. 

Meredith Aliff Absolutely.

Charlotte Taking the time to figure out who you are, what you want and what you want to do for the rest of your life is a big decision to make when you are 18, sometimes 17. So take the time, do some soul searching and make that decision for yourself, not for anyone else but yourself.

Meredith Aliff And I think one really cool thing that I've noticed about colleges is: I know when I was thinking about as an adult, what am I going to do? And even as a little kid, you're like, okay, like doctor, dentist, lawyer, teacher. Um ....And that was it.

Charlotte Yeah, you're a very limited thing on jobs where.

Meredith Aliff Right. But there's so many majors, you can find something for anything that you're interested in.

Charlotte Literally.

Makenzie My name is Makenzie Knore. I am a major in media and culture, English creative writing with minors in music composition and emerging technology and business and design. I feel like college is just one big adrenaline rush. And second of all, I think there's a lot of pressure put on high school seniors to pick something immediately and to specialize in particular things. And once I came to college at least, I didn't feel that at all. I think it was the exact opposite of what I've been told in high school. It's less about specialization and more about expansion. You know, finding who you truly are and you have all these different avenues to do so. And so, as long as you find what you love, go for it, because there will be something for you. High school students shouldn't feel scared that they're choosing the right thing because it will come to you if you just continue to think about what you love.

Meredith Aliff Absolutely. And I think that that's really important to keep in mind when you're looking for majors is like you don't have to do something because you think that you should. Like, do something that you love, like, turn your hobby into your profession. Like, have fun with it. There's majors for literally everything now.

Makenzie Right. I totally agree. I always talk about with my roommate, we get together every night and kind of talk about philosophical ideas because that's just what we do. But anything that is done with passion from that person is what people love. So if you're passionate about what you're doing, whether that is music or media like me, or some science field or business, if you're passionate about it, you will be good at it and you will find something for you.

Meredith Aliff Yeah, and you'll thrive. I mean, you'll have a fulfilling life, you know.

Makenzie It just happens naturally like that. So once you follow what you love and what you're passionate about, everything will fall in line. That's choosing a college, that's choosing a major, that's obtaining a profession that you really enjoy. And really just anything in life.

Meredith Aliff Thank you for listening to our special summer series. Next time on the podcast, as we look forward to a brand new school year, we're going to talk about one of the most important issues facing many young people today, mental health. We'll talk about student experiences with mental health, advice for those seeking support, and how we can help end the stigma surrounding mental health and wellness for college students everywhere.

College Student 1 Not everyone is going to have a mental illness, but everybody has mental health. So regardless of like the size of your problems, it's still going to be completely relevant.

College Student 2 A mental health challenge can be something as simple as, you know. Today I feel sad. Today I feel low. I don't really feel myself today. And I think that's something that everybody definitely experiences.

Meredith Aliff That's next time on Major Insight. Until then, you can find many more episodes wherever podcasts are found.

Major Insight is a roadmap for college students who wish to find their place and purpose on campus. Each episode features real stories with real students who are successfully navigating 21st century university life.