Before dropping me off for school every morning when I was in elementary school, my dad always used to say, “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.” Though many years have passed since these carefree mornings skipping off to recess, my father’s advice has stayed with me through the years, and continues to challenge me as I face days in college that are increasingly longer and more demanding. Everyone has heard a million times before that the transition into college is difficult. This new season of life as we move from childhood into adulthood carries many struggles and new learning curves, and being at one of the world’s top research institutes studying engineering only adds to the challenge. Days suddenly become long and busy, crammed with demanding schoolwork, devilishly tricky problem sets, terrifying midterms, hectic extracurricular commitments, and the added overall stress of impending reality, which is constantly stressing the importance of professional development. Trying to think about all the variables at once and recognizing the sheer volume of things to do is overwhelming to say the least. It is therefore important to remember to take a moment to breathe. Here is a list of life tips I find helpful when I suddenly feel bogged down by everything (and I must give a disclaimer that I was fortunate enough to receive this advice in counsel from mentors and peers in my life much wiser than myself… also, please excuse the cliché platitudes, but I promise they’re true):
1.) Take a moment to appreciate the little things
Amidst all the craziness of life and expectations and responsibilities and homework and deadlines, it is enormously important to take time merely to appreciate all the little things like the blooming spring flowers, or the sunset, or a great meal. Stepping back and recognizing the wonderful world all around us can do wonders for the frazzled mind.
2.) Its All About the People
At the end of the day, it is relationships and friendships that truly make all the difference. Supportive community and deep, meaningful relationships are what give us the strength to get through the day. Even though life gets crazy and sometimes when the workload is heavy its tempting to turn away from community, it is hugely important to take time to connect with people. It is those moments of hanging out with your hall mates, getting tacos at midnight, late night acapella rehearsals, discussing philosophy over coffee, and exploring LA that build connections that last a lifetime. Take time to climb trees with your friends, go to breakfast with your teammates, and don’t forget to take pictures when you do so you can hold onto these special moments frozen in time!
3.) Life by the yard is hard, life by the inch is a cinch
Yes, it is a good thing to keep the long term big picture goals in mind, but it is also important to take life one step at a time. Things suddenly get a lot scarier if when picking your course schedule, deciding on one class disproportionately means the difference between choosing one career path or another and suddenly you’re having a quarter life crisis trying to decide your career path and personal aspirations, while trying to juggle all the things you’ll need to put on your resume to get there. Life has too many variables to carry all at once, so approaching life by taking care of one thing at a time is significantly less stressful.
4.) Being second best is not a bad thing
One of the most intimidating things about college is the sudden expansion of our world. We become, very quickly, big fish in a huge pond, and most often we find that we are second best in the things we thought ourselves masters of, and this I promise is okay. While humbling and difficult to accept that we may no longer be the best, it is an amazing opportunity to be suddenly surrounded by other people who are so incredibly gifted and talented. There is much to learn from one’s peers. Living and learning next to people who have mastered extracurricular involvement to an art, or have learned how to code all of humanity, or who have designed and published their own research experiment have both inspired me to develop my own skills and also pushed me to get better. I have found that embracing this position of second best is in fact the true “best” because it encourages constant improvement and means you never stop learning!
5.) Be happily Surprised
Sometimes the best experiences are those we least expect. While here at USC I have had many opportunities arise that were pleasantly surprising and surpassed my wildest dreams for college. A few weeks ago, a couple of my friends and I decided on a whim to sign up for the freshman Boeing Design Challenge even though none of us have any prior experience in aerospace engineering. I was the only biomedical engineer in the room, and definitely out of place. Nonetheless, we worked really hard together as a team, and tried to draw from our experiences, studies, and skillsets to design the best possible solution to the scenario they presented. After a long three hours, we emerged victorious and took home the first place prize, much to our pleasant and grateful surprise. The most surprising part, however, was the number of amazing opportunities that arose from this one experience. I am now the proud owner of a Boeing sweatshirt, I have attended a private corporate networking event with Boeing representatives, and have even attended the Viterbi Awards ceremony by invitation to sit at the Boeing corporate table. I should mention now that in all honesty, I still don’t know much at all about aerospace engineering. My contribution to the competition mainly involved crunching a lot of numbers and some educated guesswork. What made the experience, however, was being open to trying something completely new and out of the box. Just being willing to participate has opened an incredible number of doors! Above all, the best advice I’ve ever gotten is to just be grateful. Despite the many late nights and the stress, we live in an extraordinarily blessed world and have the opportunity to attend an amazing school, learn from amazing professors, and live on an amazing campus where we have access to practically unlimited resources, opportunities, and fun experiences. It is important not to let something as petty as a bad grade or a rough day ruin our overall joy. My mom taught me a trick to remember to be grateful involving a simple habit. Every time you see a penny, (which is pretty often since they’re quite common), think about something you’re grateful for. You’ll find the list of things you have to be thankful for is longer than you think and as plentiful as pennies. Getting the most out of your college experience and life in general will depend a great deal on the way you look at it. So every time things start getting overwhelming, remember to take a breather and give thanks.
Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.