There's an awful lot of talk about finding yourself in college. In fact, college may as well be synonymous with discovery; you discover knowledge, sure, but you also discover passions, goals, drive, compassion, and connection. At the bottom of it all, you discover who you are, an invaluable kind of knowledge.

This particular idea of self-discovery caught my attention when I thought about what college would offer. To me, it stood out as the primary reason for higher education, beating out the typical responses of money and prestigious careers. Those were simply added bonuses, fancy ribbons and bows for the gift of self-knowledge. I viewed it the way Jay Gatsby views Daisy Buchanan: dreamlike in nature and mine for the taking.

I quickly found, though, that self-awareness doesn't come without a few bumps and bruises. It doesn't come without obstacles standing in your way, doors closing right before you reach them, and facing people who don't believe in you. It doesn't come without self-doubt or the question of whether you made the right decision. But that's not to say that it's any less valuable or that it's not worth your time. The discoveries far outweigh the setbacks, affirming one of the ironies of life that many of our great moments of growth come from our not-so-great moments of struggle.

True to what others have said, in only one semester, college has proven to be a platform for self-growth and self-awareness, full of both those great and not-so-great moments. Typical to my nature, I hit the ground running, pushing myself past my previous limitations. I wanted nothing short of my best, something I (incorrectly) synonymized with success somewhere along the line. My approach led to certain successes, but it left too much room for the fear of failure, and it didn't take long for me to trip and fall. And I fell and got back up only to fall again - over and over. The rat race of pushing oneself to perfection cannot last. That all-important lesson laid the groundwork for my path to self-discovery.

With this realization in hand, everything has become a bit more clear. For the first time, I understand that doing my best does not mean an absence of unmet expectations; it means continuing to strive for my high expectations, but forgiving myself when I fall short. I understand the importance of practicing self-empowerment and the necessity of believing in the support from those around me. Saying the words “I can” over the words “I can’t” creates a noticeable difference in motivation, effort, and final results in whatever I do and encourages me to try new and unexpected things.

More importantly, however, one semester of college has taught me that I am much more capable than I previously allowed myself to believe. After stumbling through and conquering challenges during the first semester, I have a greater sense of who I am, including how I learn, how I work best, and what I enjoy, all of which contribute to defeating even greater challenges as I move forward. They teach me to believe in my ability to accomplish my goals, perhaps one of the greatest lessons I will learn in a college classroom.

Walking into my second semester of college with these realizations ultimately leaves me with less pressure and creates more freedom to breathe, more freedom to explore and challenge myself. While I have always loved a good challenge, I find that I am now more open to them, allowing me to delve into unexplored territories. This semester, I’m taking classes I never thought I would take, bringing an open mind and excitement for what lies ahead. I’m bringing new perspectives to the new semester, so here’s to the next set of challenges, the next lot of lessons, and the next discoveries of who I am.

Lead Image: John St. John