I actually talk to a fair share of stressed 18-year-olds. But I used to be a stressed 18-year-old myself – and it’s still close enough to me that I always tell these 18-year-olds what I wish someone had told me then. Here is (some of) what I say.
Don’t put too much stock into how much you “like” a subject you are learning in college.
In the end, what does “liking” mean?
A lot of the time, you “like” learning about something, or learning to DO something, because you feel like you are good at it, or could be good at it.
The same is true when applied to the opposite. What does it mean to “dislike” a subject you are learning?
You sit in a class, and the professor seems to be scribbling Greek. Scribbling it SUPER FAST maybe – and he wants you to understand it by the end of the week. You study really hard. There is no lightbulb of understanding. You get stressed. You panic. You think about dropping the class because you don’t know if you “like” the subject anymore.
You probably dislike it because you don’t think you are “good” at it.
And…that’s really it. Think about every class you hated. Okay – maybe there was another factor, like the teacher was really mean to you. But the root of most dislike comes from a belief that you are not good at something.
What does it mean to not be “good” at something?
When people say they aren’t “good” at something, it means they have difficulty grasping it. But some concepts are inherently hard to grasp – especially at first. There are only so many geniuses in this world – the rest of us have to sit in calculus for a year before it finally, finally starts making sense (may or may not be speaking from experience). What I’m trying to say is: Give it some time.
There are some things you have to learn that are not going to come easily to you, where you struggle for a week, two weeks, 2 months, a semester – and it’s hard. You struggle, your self-esteem plummets, and you feel like the dumbest human being on the planet.
Be kind to yourself. I promise you: if you are studying something that seems impossible to understand – if you give it some time, you WILL understand it. There will be a lightbulb moment at some time. And once you start getting something – you will feel a change. Your attitude about the subject will probably turn around. Of course, some people will still feel disinterested in a subject even after they start to understand it. In that case, I say: let it go. Find something else to study that you enjoy more.
But all I’m saying is: don’t give up on something too early, just because it’s hard.
Addendum** : One day I would like to expand on this post to incorporate some feelings I have on how what I talk about here relates to higher education/women in tech and engineering. But that’s for another day.