I distinctly remember a feeling of dread. I knew I had a long day of classes ahead of me. After sitting through all the fun icebreakers and intros of required core classes I didn’t like, my reward was going to be…swing dance. Truthfully, I wanted nothing more than to finish class and go back to my room to sleep. Unfortunately, napping is not great way to make new friends.
During welcome week at my new home, dozens and dozens of club leaders approach me and every other freshman seeking our participation. Acapella groups, improv groups, dance groups, young democrat society, young republican society, anti-government society—you name it. As a newborn babe to the jungle of college life which required me to become much more active in seeking social stimuli, I gave out my email to every single club.
Any passerby that happen to make eye contact with me pretty much got my email.
I wasn’t just trying to put myself out there; I shoved myself out there.
On one hand, this can be good. Hypothetically, you can meet lots of people, find new passions and make a home in your new environment.
But I didn’t do any of those things. I did swing dance because I kind of liked the idea of it. I thought a weird skill like swing dance would make for a good icebreaker at parties. So I arrived at the first meeting. Needless to say, it wasn’t all that I hoped it might be.
The first meeting of the swing club teemed with freshman. The seniors of the club introduced themselves, gave us dance partners and we got underway. Things might have looked promising at first; nervous laughter filled the room as us novices stumbled through the basic steps spins and dips the seniors showed us. I wanted to chat with people, but I found myself pretty focused on not crossing my feet up. I spoke a little bit with my partner; she was pretty and seemed cool. After a little bit of slightly forced small talk, I made a few jokes that actually made her laugh. We seem to connect a little bit…until the seniors instructed us to switch partners.
Have you ever been in a class with no one you know, and then the teacher assigns a group project and leaves you to find the group? Normally you’d love to pick your own group. But none of your friends are in this class and you don’t really know much about anyone, so you feel kind of stuck, unsure of where to move or who to talk to. That’s what this moment felt like.
Everyone waited around awkwardly, eventually shuffling around the room to find a new dance partner. I approached another girl, which meant another round of slightly forced small talk interspersed with new steps spins and dips. My new partner and I didn’t hit it off at all. The more I focused on making conversation, the more I messed up the dance and the more I felt like my partner seemed annoyed.
Then I realized—I don’t think I really enjoy swing club.
But even after the clammy mess that was the first meeting, I showed up for several more weeks. I dragged myself there every Monday no matter how badly I didn’t want to go. I figured that even if I felt unhappy, putting myself out there and going to different clubs meant that I was trying my best. Along the same lines, I felt “involved” (I was physically present but mentally checked out) in a few other clubs that I equally did not enjoy.
High school was a bit of a different story. I knew almost every person in my grade. No matter what club or organization I joined, I always knew someone. And in high school, all clubs and activities were held immediately after school. So I’d finish my classes, and the natural progression of my day led right into extracurricular activities. I didn’t need to go anywhere; it was easy to passively join and attend club meetings. Everything centralized right there after class. In college, extracurricular activities required me to be much more active. I needed to go out of my way to be a part of things. Since I wasn’t passionate about what I was doing, it became more of a burden.
The fact is, a lot of what I did in my first semester was a waste of time. Somehow I thought that if I kept going, I’d push through an awkward beginning phase and everything would click. But it wasn’t a phase. I was just forcing myself to do things I didn’t like. I would never going to make friends at swing club because I didn’t care about swing club. Friendships are built on common interests and shared experiences. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to join clubs that actually interested me.
I eventually found an improv comedy group and it changed everything. I actually felt excited to attend a club meeting. Instead of waking up in the morning dreading the fact that I’d drag myself to swing, I felt anxious to finish class so that I could go do improv. Unsurprisingly, I made new friends, because I surrounded myself with people who shared a common interest. It totally changed my life at college.
I took ideas I learned in high school and applied them to college. I figured just join tons of clubs, add organizations to your resume and meet as many people as possible. But, this idea simply does not translate over to college.
College forces you to actually figure out who you are and what you feel passionate about so that you can pursue those things alongside people of a like mind. I learned this through experience. As it turns out, I also learned I’m not much of a swing dancer.