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A head-and-shoulders illustrated portrait of Ceri Riley. She is smiling with her mouth closed, has light skin, and long light pink hair.

Some Advice by Ceri Riley '16

Sometimes I wish I could tell freshman-me that everything's going to be okay

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, maybe because:
– I feel old and unprepared heading into senior year
– I just underwent adult bootcamp and lived alone for ~3 months with a job and a nasty commute
– my brother’s starting college in a month and that makes me feel even older
– I’m introspective to a fault and end up writing overly pedantic spiels.

On my 6-hour plane flight home, I was thinking about advice that I would have given freshman-Ceri three years ago. What started as a fun thought experiment to pass the time ended up being a 2000+ word stream-of-consciousness. So I cleaned up my ideas and added some formatting, and thus this blog post was born.

Maybe this will help someone, or maybe it will be totally unrelatable. It’s certainly no 50 Things, which you should definitely read if you haven’t already. Yuliya, Selam, and Erick have posted some great practical advice recently (which is probably more helpful than this list) and Allan has a similar motivational advice post (some of our thoughts even overlap).

But here’s what I came up with:

1) It’s okay to miss home, whether home is driving distance from MIT or halfway across the world. Moving into a college dorm is a new experience with new responsibilities, and it can feel overwhelming. Call or write someone you care about; they’ll be happy to hear from you.

2) The first people you meet in a new place don’t have to become your closest (or only) friends. Keep exploring different communities. You’ll eventually find some wonderful people who will make you smile on your worst days.

3) College isn’t a magical place where you instantly figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. You will struggle in classes that don’t feed your soul, completing graduation requirements or trying to find a major that clicks. But you will begin to understand just how many things there are to learn.

4) Do something to save these memories – take pictures, make videos, save ticket stubs and the notes your friends write you, journal regularly, and scribble down quotes that inspire you. You’re going to change a lot in a very short time, and you’ll appreciate having a time capsule to look back upon.

5) Say yes more. It’s healthy to go on an adventure every once in a while, even if it sounds scary. You’ll have a new story to tell, or maybe you’ll try something new and realize you’d rather not do it again (e.g. my black eye/swollen lip surfing debacle).

6) Remember it’s okay to say no. There are hundreds of activities, hundreds of friend groups that you could get involved in. Not to mention classes. College will be a crash course in time management, and you will figure out your limits and your priorities.

7) Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Especially here, and especially because it’s so difficult to stop. You’ll fear that your peers won’t think you’re intelligent, ambitious, or talented enough, but listing your own achievements will just add to someone else’s insecurities. Know your value and focus on being your best self.

8) Figure out how you work best and stick with it. Even though so many people advocate for group psetting, it’s okay to want to work alone. Maybe you work better in a quiet coffeeshop at noon, or maybe you work better in a huge collaborative pset party late into the night. No strategy is objectively better.

9) Be yourself as much as you can. It’s exhausting to try and maintain a fake persona when school is already challenging enough. Unironic enthusiasm is cool, and college is a great time to explore your identity. Embrace that.

10) Get off campus, whether it’s a walk into Boston or a train to visit friends at other East Coast schools or a flight to another country. The time away from MIT will help give you perspective, and you might be able to find funding for your travels. Take advantage of your mobility before you lay down more permanent roots.

11) Learn to accept failure. People generally have a lot of pride and are unwilling to admit faults. But if you’re challenging yourself intellectually and socially, you’re going to make mistakes. Forgive yourself and take responsibility for your actions instead of making excuses. Learn to sincerely apologize.

12) It’s okay to feel conflicted about MIT as a school and as a home. Realizing the difference between being deeply unhappy and feeling ungrateful for this academic opportunity will be difficult. Talk to upperclassmen and some trusted faculty. They will help you sort your thoughts.

13) You’re not weak for needing medicine. Take care of all your organs, especially your brain. Hide under blankets when the world feels like it’s falling apart and slowly piece yourself back together.

14) Late nights can feel magical when you spend them with good people, laughing and talking and exploring. That being said, sleep is a wonderful thing that you shouldn’t neglect. Find a balance.

15) You will discover exceptional mentors when you least expect it. Make an effort to stay in touch – write friendly emails, schedule quick meetings in their office or over hot chocolate, ask them questions about their lives to help you puzzle through your own young adulthood.

16) Say ‘thank you’ often and always be kind. Tip extra, pass on compliments, be compassionate to everyone in the service industry. Even though you might not feel positive all the time, try to make someone else’s life a little better when (and because) you can.

17) Dating is weird and nobody has it figured out. There’s no reason to use your romantic relationships (or lack thereof) to measure your self-worth. Focus on understanding your own needs and emotions before jumping into anything. Listen to your close friends if they’re concerned, it’s probably for a good reason.

18) There will be many days when you are constantly responding to emails. It’s okay to step away from technology once in a while and catch up with all the notifications later.

19) Sometimes you won’t want to talk to people, and that’s okay. When you hear friends laughing in the hallway, you don’t have to join them. You’re allowed to enjoy solitude and choose to be in the company of others later.

20) Social media is a strange space to navigate. Figuring out which communities to join, what to post online and what to keep personal, and how you want to curate your online presence is a new sort of dilemma. You’ll find a balance (and maybe stop lurking so much) eventually. Also, pick smart usernames.

21) Jot down things you want to accomplish in your free time, whether it’s for breaks or after you’re done with school. College will keep you so busy, and you’ll want to remember all those books you wanted to read or projects you wanted to start.

22) Never stop being creative. Nothing will ever come out exactly the way you imagined, but getting that seemingly-perfect idea out of your head is important. Once you make something, you can start fixing it.

23) Always strive to be more empathetic. Actively unlearn prejudice and social biases, stop assuming things about other people, and try to see the world from other perspectives. Empathy will make your life and your stories so much richer.

24) It’s okay to want to love yourself, and it’s okay if this process is difficult. Slowly start believing in yourself, whispering words of encouragement, and it will eventually get easier. Be a person you would fall in love with.

25) Work on friendships as much as you would any other relationship. Be vulnerable, make plans, be honest, actively try to keep in touch. If you ask others for advice, really listen to what they have to say. Learn their stories. Different friendships will complete you in different ways, so don’t neglect these connections.

26) Embrace all the silly moments. You have to grow older and accept adult responsibilities, but you don’t have to lose your sense of wonder and excitement. The world may seem fast-paced, but don’t be in a rush. You’re allowed to be young and do dumb things — lose your phone charger and bruise your elbows climbing trees and bake dozens of cookies at 3am.

27) Changing majors is not the end of the world. Explore. Don’t force yourself to study something that doesn’t inspire you. You can contribute to the world as a woman in STEAM without being an engineering major. You’re not letting your gender (or anyone) down.

28) Remember to eat, even (and especially) when you feel like everything else is more important. Your body needs energy to keep functioning and your friends will be worried about you. Learn to cook some quick, simple meals because ordering takeout can get expensive.

29) One day you’re going to wake up and be a battle-scarred senior instead of a confused freshman. It will feel incredibly strange at first, but just help people as others helped you. Eventually you will realize that you’ve been through a lot and people are asking for your advice for a reason.

30) It’s okay if college isn’t the best four years of your life, and don’t feel like you’re failing if it’s not. Keep working towards happiness, appreciate little joys when they come, and begin each day with optimism. Nostalgia can be deceptive, so remember to live in the present.

31) There’s no shame in asking for an extension on an assignment. It shows responsibility on your part, and everyone (even your professor) has experienced some awful days.

32) Even if finances are tight, it’s okay to splurge once in a while. You deserve little rewards, so go out to a cupcake shop, buy a new pair of boots, or preorder that book. Objects can be comforting sometimes.

33) Revamp your planner from high school. Get a huge notebook with calendar dates and extra space to write. Mark important due dates, appointments, plane flights, events, and use the blank pages for to-do checklists. Staying organized will be a lifesaver and a motivator.

34) Remember to go outside; forests and oceans and the starry night sky will remind you how to breathe. Go on walks without listening to anything but the world around you, it can be refreshing for creativity and helpful when organizing your thoughts.

35) Learn to burn bridges, even if it might be difficult, sad, or uncomfortable. Sometimes friendships can survive all the changes throughout college, but sometimes people grow apart. If people no longer add positivity to your life, make space for newer, healthier friendships.

36) It’s okay to suck! You don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it, so do the things you like doing – sing badly, try new video games and board games, doodle on scrap paper. You’ll have more fun without worrying about judgment or arbitrary barriers-to-entry.

37) Keep extra medical supplies handy (and not just if you’re a MedLink). Having a bottle of aloe or huge bandaids will help someone someday. Same goes for tea; it’s incredibly calming and helps with late night comfort and tired eyes.

38) Try and keep up with the world around you, even if it’s just by skimming news headlines. The sheer volume of current events and systemic injustices can feel overwhelming, but it’s good to be aware of the billions of lives outside of your own. Actively make society better when you can.

39) Reinvent yourself sometimes. Change up your clothing so you feel more confident, dye your hair or chop it off, start or stop wearing makeup, plaster your arms with temporary tattoos or drawings if you don’t want to commit to a permanent piece of art.

40) Even if Boston feels like a waypoint rather than a home, try to see the city through the eyes of people who love it. You are living here, on the East Coast, in Massachusetts, right now. So try and act like a resident, not a tourist. You’ll feel good when you can show relatives some neat places when they visit.

41) Trust your instincts. Be bold rather than lacing your opinions with apologies. Be open to new experiences, but also protect yourself if you’re in an uncomfortable situation. It’s not worth the argument when people aren’t open to different perspectives. These discussions (and hate-reading comments on the internet) will be a drain of your time and your energy.

42) Set goals and work towards them instead of harboring lofty, impossible dreams. Nobody you admire has gotten to where they are without hard work and plenty of struggles. Always, always continue learning.

43) Keep an eye out for new opportunities because life is unpredictable. Doors will open and reveal new paths whether you’re looking or not. You need to be ready to leap through some of them instead of always waiting for something ‘better.’

44) Not everyone is going to like you. Let them call you apathetic or cynical or other uninformed adjectives; you don’t have to share your self or your time with anyone. Be the best person you can be (and sometimes that means honestly listening if you could improve your behavior). But don’t worry about all the errant haters.

45) Learn to accept compliments rather than deflecting them. You have trained yourself to be self-conscious and self-deprecating under the guidance of society, and it’s time to start reversing that. Learn to say ‘thank you’ and be proud of the person you’re becoming and the work you produce.

46) Remember to take time and clean your room – clear off your desk, wash your sheets, vacuum the carpet or sweep your floors. Clutter can quickly become distracting, and the feeling of curling up in blankets still warm from the dryer is so very lovely.

47) It’s okay if you don’t have answers right now. You’re still discovering yourself, your beliefs, where you fit into the world and how you want to change it (and so is everyone else, even if it doesn’t seem like it). Bits and pieces will come when you least expect them.

48) Sometimes we all just need a break, so don’t feel guilty for taking one. Watch some crappy TV with friends, listen to your favorite podcast, reread a story that inspires you, or take a nap.

49) Always ask to pet dogs if their owners look like they have the time. And/or seek out cats. Animals love unconditionally and make for good company. If you have pets at home but not at school, you’re going to miss having them around.

50) Work hard without praise. You need to be your own motivator and create your own measurements of success. College still gives students the security blanket of grades and gold stars, but you can’t wait for someone else’s praise to validate your efforts. Do good work, don’t lose hope, and keep making things that you love.