October 23, 2022

SWASING | How to be a Work in Progress

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I spend a lot of time interacting with potential, admitted and new students through my work as a tour guide, college ambassador and peer advisor on campus. Throughout these experiences, I receive a lot of the same questions and share many of the same pieces of advice on repeat. While some of this advice is more applicable to students that have not yet applied to Cornell, most is also relevant for current students, especially first-years or anyone who hasn’t quite found their way at Cornell yet — anyone who is a work in progress. 

If you are one of those people who hasn’t found their way, fear not. I am over halfway through my time at Cornell and still developing my identity as a person and Cornellian. I am a work in progress, and it’s okay if you are too. The best part of being at Cornell, and in college in general, is facing endless opportunities to grow as a person. The more we allow ourselves to be open to those opportunities, the better. If you are still a work in progress, this article is for you. 

My first recurrent piece of advice for those of us whose Cornellian identities are still works in progress is to explore. Take the long way home from class and expand your mental map of campus. Study in a building you’ve never been to. Visit a dining hall you’ve heard about but haven’t tried yet. Take a trip to the Botanic Gardens. The best way to form yourself into the best person you can be is to constantly expose yourself to new experiences, and Cornell is full of them. Just the physical campus alone offers so many opportunities to expand your horizons. You never know what may be around the next corner, on campus or in life. 

In addition to all the physical places on campus to explore, take advantage of the experiential opportunities as well. Just in the last year at Cornell, I have seen a performer formerly on America’s Got Talent, a Deaf comedian, a yo-yo performance, an acapella showcase, two dance performances and a whole slew of other performances and shows. I have left each event with a richer connection to Cornell, a deeper appreciation for different types of people and a stronger foundation of broad experiences. 

My second piece of advice for works in progress is a bit cliché, but for good reason. For the love of all that is good and holy in this world, please stop comparing yourself to others. One of the top concerns I hear from my advisees and prospective students is some form of “I’m not sure if I am meant to be at a school like this. Everyone seems like they know exactly what they’re doing, and I am lost.” On the outside looking in, Cornell is terrifying. It is the eternally glamorized Ivy League, placed high up on a pedestal of apparent exclusivity. That isn’t necessarily the reality of Cornell. Allow me to burst the ivy-clad bubble for you: no one knows what they are doing all the time, no one has it all together and everyone is just figuring it out as they go. We’re all in this together, and I like to think that’s part of what makes Cornell so great. 

What makes Cornell not so great is when you compare yourself to incomplete, idealized versions of the people around you. It’s easy to feel behind when you see someone get a better grade than you or secure an internship before you do. Maybe what you didn’t see is that they didn’t get picked for that project team they really wanted, or how much they struggled to bring up their grade in the first place. We can’t possibly know what is going on in the lives of everyone around us and comparing ourselves to them is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle, nor to improving yourself as a work in progress. Remember that we all have different challenges in life, and that you are going down your own path at the pace that is right for you. Use those around you as resources to learn from, not standards of comparison. 

My last token of advice is especially for those works in progress out there who haven’t found their people on campus yet. It is okay to be alone sometimes. Learning how to enjoy your own company is one of the best skills and gifts you can give yourself. In the past, there have been times that I found myself going to class all day only to realize that the first time I actually spoke that day was to say thank you to the staff in the dining hall at dinner time. Some people may never experience a day like that, but for many, college can be very lonely at first. It can be challenging to make friends organically and exhausting to make them artificially. While I am not at all discrediting the importance of friendship, it can be draining — at least it was for me. 

Now, maybe you’re just reading this and thinking “Halle, it sounds like you’re just really bad at making friends.” If you are thinking that, this article, or this piece of advice at least, is not for you. On the other hand, if you read it and thought “That sounds exactly like what I have been feeling,” then you’re in the right place. It’s okay to not always be trying to meet new people. Try to make friends, yes. Keep putting yourself out there and attending clubs and events you are interested in. Do all the things they say you should do to meet people but know that it is okay to spend time with yourself. 

Time alone is a rare opportunity to reflect on life and learn about who you are when you aren’t surrounded by all the people who have helped you to form your identity for so many years. Of course, don’t become a hermit, but don’t feel pressured to constantly be around other people. It’s okay to go through your day without talking until dinner. Do what makes you happy and make the most of it no matter what you are doing. 

I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice that I share with as many young people at Cornell as I can: never stop being a work in progress. Cornell is a wonderful place to form your identity as an adult, but even beyond graduation, never stop improving who you are. The number one thing you can take from your time at Cornell is how to be a lifelong learner. 

I am a work in progress, and I hope you are too. 

Halle Swasing (she/her) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].  Goes Without Swasing runs every other Sunday this semester.