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!