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The Dartmouth
May 29, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Reflection: What I Would Tell My First-Year Self

Connor Allen ’25 reflects on what he wishes his first-year self knew.

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This feels ironic to write: Connor Allen gives his first-year self college advice. Yes, I am advising myself: He, who just recently asked Chat GPT “what should my career be?” and who still leans heavily upon upperclassmen for advice himself. 

But then again, no one else really has it figured out. Sure, the pre-med who has wanted to help cancer patients since they were six is a little closer to figuring out their life than the economics major who chose the most practical and door-opening degree possible (me). But it’s still a work in progress for those future doctors. No one’s reached the finish line of total self-understanding and fulfillment — which transitions quite appropriately into my very first bit of advice to my first-year self: I wish I had stopped comparing myself to others, and I wish I could tell myself that this is a surefire route to misery.

Sure, sometimes comparing myself with others was inevitable: I can’t erase a below-the-median grade from my transcript. But I certainly can mute LinkedIn summer internship announcement notifications. To be clear, that’s not supposed to be a slight. I will most certainly be celebrating on LinkedIn whenever (or if ever, at this point) I lock down that summer associateship. We’re a competitive group, and everyone wants the fanciest internship, the top-est house, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at times, skewing toward envy drove me crazy. I’d tell my freshman self to just take that deep breath and remember that I was living my own life, and all that counted was what I chose to do at that moment — or maybe in a few minutes, once the marginal benefits of Fizz scrolling had decreased sufficiently to put down my phone. Oh, yeah, a quick aside: First-year self, please delete Fizz. It’s really, pretty stupid. 

Still, it’s harder than I thought to give my past self advice. There’s my present ego that gets caught up in it: “What do you mean I should give past me advice? That would imply something is wrong with my present situation, or by extension, present me!”

Inherently, giving oneself advice can be the most ego-bruising experience of all. I know my flaws far better than anyone else (I hope so at least). It’s even more ego-punishing when it’s published in my college newspaper for my entire social world to view, though that’s probably a stretch. I’m certain this exercise in navel-gazing will spark inspiration and joy in many, but it probably will fall short of impacting everyone that I know. Nonetheless, maybe this is the better way to frame it: I enjoy my present situation, and the only advice I’d give to my past self is to figure these things out sooner. That’s the angle I’ll take here. Present ego, you can relax.

The next part of my advice to my first-year self is more practical. I wish I could travel back in time and teach myself good email hygiene. Many students likely would have benefitted from a class on emailing during New Student Orientation, if one existed. I can’t remember how many potentially cool opportunities I missed or didn’t bother to explore because I found my inbox so cluttered as to seem irredeemable. Yes, I’m well aware I’m not supposed to stray into didactic territory lest I want this article to appear in the opinion section as opposed to the Mirror section. But I think this is such good advice that I’ll not just limit it to my past self but anyone who wants to immediately make their life better: Filter unnecessary emails. First-year self, if you know you’ll never attend a Dartmouth Argentine Tango Society meeting (sorry to pick you guys, I’m sure the club is wonderful, just not for me), filter them into a new label. By keeping emails labeled and organized, things won’t slip through the cracks. I’ve missed too many important emails simply because I had no concept of how to effectively utilize my inbox, for anything, really. 

But besides that, and perhaps most importantly, I would simply and succinctly tell my first-year self, “relax.” Call that advice dismissive, reductive or simplistic. But said with just the right blend of concern, care and authority, this short but simple message can do wonders without sounding patronizing. At least it would for me. At the start of my first-year fall, I was simply far too nervous and overeager — for clubs, leadership positions, a wide social net, hard classes, etc. I wish I had known that in college, for the first time in years, I could simply take a deep breath and let good things happen to me rather than chasing, stressing and worrying about falling behind. I eventually figured this out (or at least I’m still doing my best), but I would’ve liked to have heard it earlier on in my first-year fall, when I felt homesick and burnt out from the constant desire to go out and not waste my time. 

In semi-maturity, I’ve come to appreciate a good 15-minute, mindless break, or a night staying in or a day off from commitments. Yes, in first-year fall, those are not necessarily at the top of the bucket list after months of high school senior year academic withdrawal and infinite new opportunities for freedom and fun. But during my freshman year, mixing in a chill night once a week where I did nothing would not have instantaneously ostracized me from the Dartmouth community, even if it seemed like everyone else spent their nights at club meetings or parties. 

That does it for the main points I’d like to tell my barely younger self: Stay patient, chill out, get organized and stay that way. It’s still a work in progress. I’m sure there will be even more to write about once I graduate. Especially if everything falls terribly apart: Maybe I drop out, or decide to tattoo my entire face or get arrested for golf cart joyriding or selling nuclear secrets. That article would be much easier to write: Connor, don’t give the Russians the nuclear secrets. Just let the golfer have his cart. Future employers, don’t worry, that was a joke. The next article will be about learning good professional habits.