At the beginning of Orientation Week, I overheard a first-year asking his orientation leader about what he shouldn’t bring to Columbia. The Guide to Living starts off the list with prohibited items like toasters, incense, and kettles, but the most important things you should leave behind aren’t tangible.
Don’t bring fear. Let yourself be vulnerable and curious. Let yourself be happy and ridiculously silly. Let yourself fall in love: with the boy down the hall, with your mom’s irrational worries, with sleeping in on Sundays, with the familiarity of the garbage truck at 1 a.m. Don’t be afraid to go out and explore. Try something new because success doesn’t come from tentative people. It comes from people who hunger for the world and thirst for new experiences. Drink failure and disappointment like your first sip of champagne: burning yet liberating.
Don’t bring insecurity. Fake it till you make it. Sign up for Ballet I (BC 1135). Find yourself wearing leotards and buying ballet shoes. Decide to stay in the class because you bet your roommate a bottle of wine that you’d stick it out this semester and your mom taught you that sometimes commitment means doing things you aren’t comfortable with. You’ve never danced before, but you stand with your best Black Swan poise and pretend you know exactly what a plié is.
Don’t bring answers. Be boldly mediocre. You came to New York City from high schools where you were probably a big fish in a little pond, but in the city you aren’t even in the pond. Sometimes you will feel stupid. That’s OK. Ignorance isn’t the end of exploration and learning—it’s the beginning. When you explore what you don’t know, you give yourself room to trip on unexpected information. There’s a risk in getting everything wrong and that’s exciting.
Finally, don’t bring your high school yearbook. Live in the here and the now. Embrace first experiences at Columbia. Sometimes you’ll look at the success stories around you and wonder how you ever got into a place like Columbia. Other times you’ll find yourself pretending to be someone you’re not. You’ll find yourself adopting strange sleeping patterns and making way more late Halal runs than you’d care to admit. You’ll have floor debates about the quality of education and how to define “humanity.” You’ll have Backstreet Boys dance parties, and your roommate will attempt to teach you to twerk.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll ever master a plié or learn to twerk, but by embracing your own ignorance and boldly running toward uncertainty you can at the very least be a mediocre dancer (or whatever your heart desires!)—and that’s okay.
Mother Potato is a Columbia College junior majoring in tuber-based agriculture. Dear Mother Potato is an advice column offering mashterful bites of wisdom for CU students of all schools and ages. Post your thoughts and questions here and stay tuned for weekly responses.