My Sophomore Slump

College begs a million and one questions from the moment you are accepted. Which dorm do you want to live in? What's your major? What clubs will you join? What kind of person do you want to be? Who will you surround yourself with? Do you want to party? What kind of grades are you willing to work for? Some choices are simple, others seem to lurk forever. I felt a lot of pressure to choose — to be certain of what I wanted and how I would get there, and so I did. I dug in my heels about every choice — I was certain I hated banks and corporate America and wanted to work in tech with startups. I accordingly changed my major to Information Systems and never looked back. I sat through classes I thought I liked but actually felt apathetic about, getting sub-par grades. I worked for a start-up for two summers that lacked the size or structure to give me much guidance, not to mention the work was completely unrelated to my path. But I had decided that this was what I wanted to do. Changing my mind would go against the persona I constructed.

Mid-sophomore year, I was in full-on crisis mode. My mental health spiraled as I applied for an endless string of internships, all of which systematically turned me down. The momentum from freshman year ran out, and I felt like a complete failure. Up until this point, I had a strong sense of direction and awareness of what I wanted, and how that changed, but it seemed like change was no longer an option – it was succeed at what I set out to do or fail. I had no idea how to move forward or gain perspective on my situation. I started writing applications to transfer colleges and even debated taking a semester off, just to escape the feeling of inadequacy.

Growing up feeling independent and sure of myself led to good grades and a strong sense of self, but when I lost that feeling sophomore year, it was replaced with a hatred for why I couldn’t make myself feel strong and steady again. I knew logically that everything would be fine, but logic and emotion exist in two very different worlds.

In the midst of my sophomore slump, a part of me knew something had to change. I learned about the Investment Management Workshop from some Wibbers that I loved and respected, and figured trying out their path wouldn't hurt.  Their support and guidance helped me get accepted into the IMW. I still held firm on my decision to work in startups despite immersing myself in the world of finance. Joining the IMW felt like an accomplishment I should have been proud of, but instead, I felt like a fraud — like I shouldn't have been allowed in the room because I didn’t really know what I wanted. That feeling didn’t go away my entire sophomore year. I just plowed through, waiting for the reprieve of summer.

I wish I could give a fabulous line of advice or quick fix for when life absolutely sucks, but that doesn’t exist. I tried everything I could to "cure" myself, from running a half marathon to reading countless books and doing meditation — all of which I'm so glad I did, but none gave me the relief I was looking for. Only time could do that.

I spent the summer in California working at the aforementioned startup, but more importantly, spending time with family, hiking, running, camping and doing things I loved, all which were completely unrelated to school. Within a month, I felt human again. In another month, I could stomach thinking about school and jobs, and I re-gained the freedom to be what I wanted without self-imposed restrictions. I decided finance might be alright after all, and I applied to some jobs. I was lucky to have offers before school began and signed early in the semester, freeing up a lot of mental space as I entered I-Core.

I started junior year with a clean slate. I forgave myself for the harsh criticisms I told myself and approached learning with an open mind. To my surprise, finance was my favorite part of I-Core, so I switched my major over winter break. I watched all the horrible feelings from sophomore year melt away and reveal a new version of myself. I feel strong, confident, and sure of myself. But I also accept that I am changing and cannot be defined as one thing forever. I've realized it's okay to change my mind about whatever I want, and that no one, not even myself, has the right to make me feel bad about it. I trust myself to know what is right for me and not compare that feeling to yesterdays.

P.S. I know this story is all wrapped up in a bow where I got a great job and I'm happy and there are rainbows everywhere, but in the midst of it, I was absolutely miserable for eight months straight. I broke down in nearly every hallway in Hodge and hid myself away from friends and clubs. Hindsight is 20/20, but I was damn near blind for a lot of it. My best piece of advice is to trust your gut and just keep chugging — and seek therapy if at all possible. I really wish I had.

Author: Niki Ryan is a junior majoring in Finance. She is the Director for Intellectual Development and enjoys working on the committee’s new podcast and planning organization-wide events!

Table for One  

College is a time when we are seemingly constantly surrounded by people — which is amazing. I love people, and I’m about as extroverted as a person can get. But, I’ve come to a point where I now realize there is a time when I need to allow myself to be alone. During this time alone, one needs to step back and totally release from the commotion that surrounds us. I often find myself so caught up in what I can do for other people that I forget to take care of myself. What has helped me to truly realize this and understand that I need to spend time taking care of myself too, is simply going out on my own and finding my own independence. When I am walking around London by myself or even sitting at a café alone, I make a true effort to stay off my phone and spend that time engaged in the present moment. When I am present with my own thoughts, without the thoughts of others circulating in my head, I feel more apt to trust my personal intuition. I’ve never been one to “just go with my gut” — I am usually a major overthinker. But because I have embraced this new-found independence, I am now used to relying on myself, and I feel confident relying on my instinct.

Spending time alone is where you learn to follow your inner voice, allowing that voice to guide you rather than letting the thoughts or opinions of others obscure what you truly want. Once you learn to follow your inner voice and you learn to filter out the outside influences, you will be more apt to make good decisions — the decisions that are right for YOU. I have noticed that by following my instinct and by making the right decisions for myself, I have felt incredibly liberated. Of course doing things for others is so important, and it is essential to care for others too. Yet, there is a point where we need to give ourselves that same time and attention. We are strong and can stand to take care of ourselves too. This inner voice and inner strength are rooted in realizing our true wants and needs and discovering our true selves. This is done by embracing our independence.

Whether you choose to embrace this independence by going on a walk around Bloomington alone, going to a yoga class alone, or grabbing a table for one, you are the one who chooses. Personally, much of my semester has consisted of exploring the city of London by myself or flying to other cities solo. This has been such a defining experience because by focusing on solely myself and my personal journey for the day, my eyes are much more open to my surroundings and how I can use my surroundings to get to where I want to go. It is me and the world and nothing in between. I am now so much more confident in my decisions and so much more relaxed with the life I lead. Spending my valuable gift of time on myself has helped me to be so content with who I truly am.

On a more extreme note of embracing independence, Cheryl Strayed in her novel Wild recalls how she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon-Washington state line, completely alone. It became a spiritual journey that ultimately saved her. Pure bravery and grit pushed her to rely on herself, and herself only, to complete this journey. A journey on which she found and embraced herself after being lost for so long.

Whether we are an extrovert or an introvert, in college or on the journey of a lifetime, we must find that time alone to embrace ourselves and our own independence.

Table for one, please?

Author: Mandy Novicoff is a junior majoring in Marketing and Professional Sales. She is currently enjoying studying abroad in London, England!

Pictures from Mandy’s adventures in London:

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