When I entered college, I decided to double major in Military Science and Leadership and Vocal Performance and minor in Education. Being very outwardly unaware of my own personal strengths and weaknesses, however, I caused my academic career, my personal life, and myself significant damage. I am writing this post to hopefully help someone realize their own limits and grow successfully through college.
The first thing to note is that “knowing your limits” does not mean “giving up” or “showing weakness.” We all have limits, we all have lines that we cannot cross, and that is okay. Fragility is an inescapable symptom of existence, and as long as we accept our strengths, our limits, and ourselves, we can properly grow. Another important note is that limits are temporary. I had what seemed to be paralyzing stage fright. I refused to sing in front of people, and for years I could barely even talk if people were looking at me. I accepted that my voice was a problem to myself, and that I would need to reconcile myself with that fact before I could approach a solution, so I slowly began opening up to the people I cared about, to positive receptions and constructive criticism. From there, I was able to grow as a musician and as a person.
On a more academic basis, I have repeatedly come across problems that seemed unassailable. I had a class with a teacher who seemed to hate me, and I could not grasp the concept matter. I sat down with some people who knew the subject matter and they helped me to comprehend the concepts in my own terms, leading to me successfully passing the class.
That said, some limits shouldn’t be pushed upon, as was succinctly explained in my first week of college by the Chair of the Music Department at the time. He gave us a talk where he put a schedule up, and then filled in a basic freshman schedule with 12 credit hours of classes. Every hour of a “study” class should have at least 2 hours of studying, and musicians have to set aside an extra 1-2 hours per class for their instruments. Add in a healthy work/social life and extracurricular activities, and all you have left is the 8 hours of sleep that you need or you will be unable to successfully proceed through your other classes and obligations. This is why planning is very important in your college career, daily life, and one of the things I wanted to bring to mind with this article.
You go to college to graduate. That is your main intention; you spend thousands of dollars, hours, tears, and a majority of your sanity in order to get a better job and help advance society and your own personal life in your chosen field. That is not to say that college and academics should be your only focus.
I entered college alone. I was scared, shy, and I felt like I couldn’t reach out to anyone. I had just gone through a breakup, moved across the country twice, went from being an engineering student to a music student, and I had already decided, a week before that moment, that I wasn’t going to go to college. I was living in Yellowstone when I got the call that I was accepted into CSU-P, and I had to move back to Pueblo because school started in a week.
My first semester was hell. I had a lot of people who were interested in being friends with me, but I rebuffed them inadvertently, thinking that they were just being nice to the sad kid. I had no one to turn to, no one that I truly trusted, and, while I successfully completed the semester, I was ready to drop out. I had nothing driving me to continue my education; I had only joined to learn what key signatures were, and why sharps and flats mattered.
Three life-changing things happened in my second semester of college: I met a small group of friends, I joined a community service organization, and I almost died. I met three other music majors: one is unfailingly kind and accepting of other people, another unquestioningly loyal and sassy, and the third immeasurably talented and welcoming to people of all walks of life. The three of them gave me a sense of acceptance that I can never thank them enough for. They made me feel welcome in a world that I had long made myself feel excluded from. I later ran into a man who told me about his fraternity that he had helped found the semester before, a fraternity that stood for community service and academic achievement and against the normal trappings of illicit and mind-altering substances. I quickly fell in love with the ideals of the organization, as well as the amazing men included within it, and I successfully joined the organization and have been a driving force toward the positive aspects since my acceptance into the organization.
In the later days of March 2018, however, before I officially joined my fraternity, I was driving to Home Depot. I had just bought some screws, but had lost them, and I had just gotten paid, so I decided that I would buy some more. I traded my car for my mom’s because she had better speakers. I was listening to my music, for once feeling right with the world, when all of a sudden the car in front of me slammed on their brakes. I noticed and was able to stop myself, and then I looked in the mirror. I still remember seeing the driver bracing himself, because he knew he wasn’t going to stop. He seemed to be going faster, in fact. I remember being so disappointed in the fact that I never joined the fraternity and that I was never the change for good that I wanted to be. I had never set myself up for success; instead, I had forced myself to live up to my own personal ideal of perfection and then berated myself for never reaching it. I closed my eyes, heard a loud crash, and then silence.
I survived the car wreck, and the 4 others that I have been involved in prior to and since that one. That wreck, however, had the most profound affect on me. I was so thankful to be alive for the first time in what seemed like years. I began reaching out to my friends, I began structuring my life, and I began getting professional help in an attempt to never let my life fall to that point where I was struggling so hard to succeed. I am a better student through my growth, and all I can recommend is to take every mistake as an opportunity for growth, take yourself and your limits seriously, and do not underestimate the power of a good schedule.
In a way, I think that this all continues the theme of fragility that I discussed earlier. In my shy attempts to avoid talking to people, I struggled to find a center, and ended up falling apart harder. It was only through my weakest moment, one of the worst in my life that I was able to reach out to people who helped me along my way. In a lot of ways, being strong enough to be fragile is one of the best messages that I can teach anyone at this point in my life.
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Written by Chris Sefcovic on Sep 29, 2020