Levy: Comfort Isn't Everything

Try not to settle into too much of a routine.

by Gabrielle Levy | 8/30/19 2:15am

Looking back now, I have very few regrets from my first year of college. After all, freshman year is meant to be a time of trial and error. From randomly choosing a dance partner for the “Salty Dog Rag” (a First-Year Trips tradition) to painstakingly selecting courses for the fall, Dartmouth freshmen are presented with a multitude of choices right off the bat that often define their first term. 

Luckily, there are no wrong choices. No matter who you meet or what courses you take, you will grow from your decisions and learn for the future. I’m a strong proponent of the belief that things do happen for a reason.

For instance, I unwittingly signed up for a challenging biology class my freshman fall. In retrospect, I wouldn’t have taken it — it isn’t a requirement for my academic plans nor a particular interest to me, and I received a final grade that disappointed me at the time. But these can be great lessons, too. I met one of my best friends in the class and gained valuable perspective about grade expectations. I hardly count it as a misstep. 

Freshmen should cut themselves a lot of slack in their decision-making. However, if there is anything I do regret from my freshman year, it’s that I settled into the comfortable rhythm of day-to-day life that lulled me into coasting a bit after the first barrage of big decisions. Thus, my advice to incoming freshmen is to try to resist that seductive temptation to “settle in.” Instead, keep reaching for the new and challenging as much as you can. 

This flies in the face of popular advice. Yes, the point of freshman year is to give yourself time and space to adjust to the ups and downs of college and the radical changes from your high school life. But while it is important to get comfortable with dorm living and settle into classes, I now see how equally important it is to keep stretching yourself in your second and third terms of freshman year. At Dartmouth, familiar patterns can be addictive. The problem with patterns is that the opportunities awaiting in undiscovered paths will be lost to you. 

During orientation and the first few weeks of class, I made a very conscious effort to join groups, meet people and push myself out of my comfort zone. But once I had collected a solid number of extracurriculars and surrounded myself with a good group of friends, I let myself lapse into a comfortable predictability. This entailed eating a cinnamon raisin bagel from Novack (a library café sometimes faulted for its meagre offerings and watery coffee) each morning, having dinner with the same group of friends almost every night, and hanging in the same dorm rooms and fraternity basements each weekend. I will admit that this formula of living did facilitate a strong focus on academics and deepened some great friendships, but I see now that it also narrowed my world and restricted my potential for personal growth.

I recently had a conversation with one of my good friends about branching out freshman year. While we discussed the comfort of having a close group of friends to call a “home base,” we both agreed that we could have made more of an effort to get to know new people. After all, hanging out with the same group of people all the time prevents one from hearing challenging opinions and learning from diverse experiences. 

Moreover, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture by following the same patterns day after day. For example, I came into Dartmouth torn between the worlds of natural science and social science; I was interested in biology and pursuing a pre-health track, but was also fascinated with government and anthropology. In the fall, I hedged my bets and took both a government and biology class. As the winter and spring quarters flew by, though, I soon found myself engulfed in pre-health requirements and forgetting to explore other plans for the future. Although I am currently still pre-health, I have stepped back and made a conscious effort to diversify my academics and extracurriculars.

Here, everyone seems to latch onto a label like “pre-health student” or “engineer” in the blink of an eye. A prospective major is as vital to an introduction as a name is, so it can be hard not to define yourself. It is easy to hurl yourself into an academic trajectory and then forget to stop and question whether you are pursuing your passions or exposing yourself to opportunities that will help you discover buried interests. 

At the end of the day, Dartmouth students are busy. So, when you inevitably settle into some sort of routine, you may feel as though you have no time to change. This isn’t true. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the way you start off Dartmouth is the way you must end it, or that everyone’s already made all their friends or that you’re strictly a science or non-science person. Never allow yourself to get too comfortable because routines can be limiting. Lean into the unease, discomfort and excitement of orientation and let these feelings stay with you for the duration of your time at the College. 

It’s never too late to break free from your day-to-day grind by hanging out with a new group of people or picking up a new intramural sport or even changing your major. As you traverse the mountains and valleys of freshman year and beyond, keep in mind that your Dartmouth story isn’t over until it’s actually over ­— until you’ve earned your degree and thrown your cap high up into the air. 

This article is a part of the 2019 Freshman Issue.