I was once told to have a three-second, three-minute, and three-hour version on hand for any major story of my life.
Though I haven’t intentionally squirrelled away a stash of such stories, they seem to have gathered on their own. After finishing my first year at UBC, I fielded a lot of questions about how it went.
In three seconds: it was great, and I learned a lot.
In three minutes: it was a year of rapid, painful, and meaningful growth. From it, I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to fight on.
Give me three hours, and I’ll probably break a little while recounting the year.
While I had a great high school experience, I went into university with no idea what I was doing, and a whole lot of fear.
These humble beginnings were brought up constantly at welcome events. Superhuman students shared that they too were once shy; that UBC had shaped them into a Very Successful Person; and that we were going to be okay. That’s great for them, and I don’t question the validity of those statements, but it was hard to imagine that happening to me. With those opening remarks, I started my journey towards my promised stardom.
I was absolutely terrified of university. I wasn’t passionate about my coursework. I went to class and returned home right afterwards. I made the trek out to multiple first-year events, only to seize up and turn back without a word. I wanted to take time for myself and have support to return to, but I had no such support systems established.
My path through university didn’t look like the ones I saw around me, and it was frightening.
It felt like everyone was having the times of their lives, while I was struggling to form connections that went beyond walking to class together. I was scared and lonely, and it definitely didn’t feel like I was okay.
Learning that my path is my own
The thing is, if you’d met me that year, you probably would’ve thought I was doing fine.
My grades were good, I held down a job, and I was cheery in class. From the outside, it looked like I was off to a great start, but I knew better. It seemed like my peers were off to actual great starts, and I thought I was the only one sinking while everyone else was soaring.
Near the end of my first year, I started to get more comfortable with spending time with people outside of class. It came as a huge surprise to me when people shared that they also struggled to meet people, keep up in their classes, and figure out what they wanted to do in second year and beyond.
Looking back, it seems obvious that I wasn’t the only one feeling lost—but at the time, it was a huge revelation! It made me step back and evaluate what I thought of myself. Maybe—just maybe—it was okay to be feeling lost and overwhelmed, and to not have everything figured out.
Taking the superhuman pressure off of myself was an incredible relief, and it was my first step towards learning to be my own friend again.
Owning my success
When surrounded by phenomenal people, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel like you’re the impostor in the crowd.
As it turns out, most first years at UBC are experiencing the university environment for the first time as well. We’re all trying to find our way, and many of us don’t know what we’re doing. I certainly still don’t! As I continue my studies, I hope to find my way a little more—and that whatever that way is, it’s mine and no one else’s.
My greatest success coming out of first year was realizing—albeit painfully—that I am living my own life, and that there’s no need for it to look a certain way.
I have no obligation to be a collection of the best parts of everyone I’ve ever met. I am more than an engineering student, more than my accomplishments and failures, more than my future career—I am a dreamer, lover, doer of things, and so much more. I am a storybook, a museum of experiences, a curator of what I allow to define me; I am built upon my own life and no one else’s.
Wherever you are right now, I can assure you that your successes aren’t, in any way, lesser than the ones you see around you.
You’ve chosen to be part of a talented community, and you were chosen to be in it. Don’t let that scare you or tell you that something’s wrong.
Be proud, take up your space, and do what you do—you’re the only one that can, and I hope you will.
How was my first year? I did well in school, I worked, I volunteered, I met new people, and I learned a lot. I also felt lonely and scared, was tired, didn’t sleep or exercise enough, cried more than ever before, and had no idea what my future would hold. It turned out okay, and I’ve chosen to allow both the negative and positive to shape who I am today.
I have much more to say about this, but that’s a three-hour discussion. So here’s my three-second summary: I’m okay, and you will be too.