I don’t know of many who will say it in this age of treating everyone as a consumer, but there is one fundamental truth for all new college students:
If college does not make you uncomfortable, something is wrong.
Growth and change are necessarily painful. In college, growth takes place to some degree apart from the environment that has nurtured and protected you. In addition, you are shepherded through this process by people who loved the experience so much that they never left. The bumps and bruises and deeper wounds that come from this experience are intended to help you learn to think for yourself and to cope with what we know is likely to come.
Your belief that it should be comfortable may not be your fault. Your parents and teachers have been human shields for misery and upset. And you are entering places where some believe that a life free of discomfort is possible and should be enforced upon you. You will be provided trigger warnings and will be told to be on the lookout for “microaggressions.” Paying attention to trigger warnings (in most cases) and seeking out things by which to be offended would waste your time. And providing protection from things which cannot harm you is an incredible disservice.
If you want to get the most out of your college experience, do these things:
Seek out uncomfortable situations.
Don’t put yourself in physical danger, of course, but seek out those people that make you uncomfortable. Take a class that might bother your parents. Try a club or two that not only wouldn’t interest you, but might really turn you off. Sometimes, the answer to the question, “Should I try _______?” should be, “Yes.”
Understand your discomfort is about you.
This is difficult for most to understand, but it is important to recognize your beliefs and attitudes—not the world or the people in it—make you uncomfortable. When you say, “You’re making me uncomfortable,” what you really mean is, “What you are doing right now violates my rules about proper behavior.” There is incredible power in realizing this simple truth.
Use your discomfort to make informed choices.
Discomfort is unavoidable, as much as you try (and as much as well-meaning others try to keep you from it). Once you take responsibility for your discomfort and begin to consider the beliefs that cause it, you can make informed choices. It might be that you have a valued belief that does not make sense to abandon. It might be that the belief should be challenged because it is keeping you from pursuing a relationship or changing your major.
There are very few “right” ways to do college, but one sure-fire wrong way is to run from everything that looks scary.
Unless it’s a bear. Definitely run from those.
For more on the dangers of trigger warnings, click here. For a wisdom from Albert Camus on how not to waste your time, click here.
Follow Dr. Owens on Twitter @drshaneowens or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.