College with Confidence: Expect Uncertainty

At some point in your college career, it may seem like everything is up in the air. Perhaps it’ll happen during freshmen year when you get lower grades than you did in high school which leads you to realize that you’re not as smart as you thought you were.
If you pride yourself for how smart you are, you’ll never be smart enough and eventually you’ll end up feeling stupid but that won’t be the worst part. The worst part will be the anxiety and fear of being thought of as stupid by your friends, professors or parents.
I entered college as a very confident physics major; I thought I was really smart and I had an unwavering commitment to being a physicist.
All throughout high school I had been extolled by teachers and envied by friends for being smart and it felt really good to be extolled and envied.
But there isn’t going to be a direct carryover of your intelligence from high school to college. And more likely than not, the reports of your intelligence were greatly exaggerated in high school.
During my first physics class, I realized I am not all that smart. Homework assignments seemed hard and I had to study and really delve into the course material to solve a certain classical physics problem.
Of course, this may all seem trivial to you, and you might not face the issues I did. But the point of my story is that it took me a very long time to have the critical awareness of myself and my certainties. Being smart isn’t a certainty and being smart doesn’t exempt anybody from hard work.
I did well in my classes, but it took a lot of work. I started taking English classes in addition to my required physics course-load because reading a novel and talking about it in class just seemed fun. I could escape the incessant struggle of solving differential equations by reading David Foster Wallace.
English is my second language, and I learned it by reading. In fact, I loved reading so much that the first time I got intoxicated, the one thing I did afterward was sit alone and read. I had thought an altered state of mind would make reading even better; maybe, make the words more alive!
Obviously, it didn’t turn out as well as I had thought: I wouldn’t find my place on the page. It’s embarrassing, but it’s the truth and if you’re afraid of being judged for what is true about you, you’ll feel like a fraud always on the verge of being found out.
Much to my parents’ discontent, I changed my major to English. I still find physics interesting, but interest is not necessarily passion. I graduated this year, and I believe my employment options would have improved if I had graduated with a Bachelor of Science instead of a Bachelor of Arts.
But then again my employment options would have improved drastically if I had rich parents.
This game of “if then” is a waste of time. “If only I had been smarter” or “if only I had gone to a better school than UCI” or “if only I had resources” are all statements that can be summed up as “If only I had been someone different.”
I cannot impart any self-help bookish advice to you because I am as cynical as anybody else. I can only tell you that you get to choose the way you live. It is a “choice” so don’t just choose the default route.
Consider this analogy:
There is a professor in front of a class. He has a mason jar and a pile of rocks, a pile of gravel, a pile of sand and a glass of water. He fills the mason jar with rocks and asks the students if the jar is full.
The students answer yes. So he takes a handful of gravel and fills in the space between the rocks, and the jar gets even more full. And then he ask, is the jar full now?
The students again answer, yes. He says, you are not learning the lesson. So he pours the sand in the jar, and it fills in the space between the gravel and the rocks. And he ask again, is the jar full now?
The students answer again, yes! The professor says it is not. He pours the water, and it seeps into everything and the jar is finally full.
You’re given a mason jar which you have to fill in the next four year of college.
The rocks are the things you put the most importance in your life. Everything else is gravel, sand and water.
You shouldn’t fill it with so many details that you lose the overarching goals, the rocks.
It’s a lesson about priorities: the one I have learned as a UCI student.
This analogy may not work for you, but don’t just dismiss it as trite because college, for me at least, is all about considering other perspectives.

Sumeet Singh is a graduate of the Class of 2014. He can be reached at sumees1@uci.edu