• Shannon Brault

Freshman Year Lessons

Yet another blog post months after the time I originally intended to share it, but again, better late than never! In May I finished up my first year of my undergraduate college experience and my, oh my, was it a whirlwind. I again have been trying to process things and really haven’t been able to process much of what happened since there were so many changes happening all at once, but I have realized some of the things that I learned over the 9 months, and I’m here to share.

For those of you that don’t know, I started college at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire and transferred to the University of Minnesota for the second semester, with COVID hitting at the exact halfway point of the semester. Starting college is hard enough as it is with so many new challenges and changes. The transition is easier for some people depending on the person, the school, the environment, etc. It really is different for everyone.

While I have said this in previous posts, here is a quick recap: I started at UWEC as a Psychology major living in a dorm room with a stranger and navigating some debilitating anxiety. Until mid-way through November I was getting used to the campus, my classes, balancing friendships from home, across the country and new ones at college, and just overall getting acclimated to this new adventure in my life. For those people who have been in my life during this year, the fact that I ended up switching into a different dorm room by myself halfway through November comes as no surprise. It was yet another change to get used to and navigate. I was navigating a new environment, health issues, and everything else that life throws at you in college while in a non-ideal living situation. While this is true, I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and it did help me grow as an individual. There were a lot of positives and a lot of negatives during the semester, but I ultimately decided it would be best for me to transfer to the UMN for the second semester as I switched my major, was still dealing with some mental health issues, and as much as I loved my friends at Eau Claire, I just didn’t think Eau Claire was the place for me, which was decided through many subsequent challenges and experiences, but that’s for another storytime.

Fast forward to second semester, I was at UMN, but living at home which brings its own challenges, mainly challenging societal pressures and expectations of what a “college experience” is supposed to look like. It’s hard going from living on your own to moving back home, but I also knew that in the end I was saving money, I was in an environment I was comfortable in, and I knew it wasn’t permanent. The semester was going pretty well. Transferring is hard, it truly is, but I kept myself busy with my coaching job, school work, seeing friends when they were around, trying to get acclimated and join clubs, skiing, and volunteering. My classes were okay. I didn’t love them all, but it was a good difficulty for me. The hardest thing was at the end of Spring Break when we were told that spring break would just be extended in order to prepare to keep us safe on campus as COVID cases were getting confirmed in the United States. Later we were told we would get back onto campus at the end of April, and then we were told that we would be online for the rest of the semester. My summer job, aka my pride and joy, was also canceled, and I was not doing too well with the uncertainty of things and navigating yet another change.

But of course, we all know that there is still a raging pandemic that is worse now than it was then, but I think it is important and more than okay for us to own the narrative that this has been difficult for everyone and has affected everyone’s life in one way or another. So while it is easy to focus on the individual things we personally have missed, we can also see that everyone has been affected. This also goes for the fact that while we can minimize our own losses, it is important to see that everyone has struggled, but we can know that our struggles and feelings are valid as well.

With the multitude of changes in my life and the amount of uncertainty and inequality in the world, many lessons have been learned and reinstated in me during the course of the year. While I have learned an abundance of information inside the classroom in topics of psychology, journalism, political science, and social justice, some of the most important lessons I learned came from my everyday life, adjusting to change and navigating a new social environment.

Without further ado, here are the top 10 lessons I learned and relearned within my first year of college:

Lesson 1 - Sometimes we really do need to take a moment to slow down and ask ourselves if we are really happy with where we are at in life. I put so much pressure on myself and others as I came into college with wildly strong expectations that didn’t end up panning out, which left me wondering if I made the correct choices at all. I was the type of person that overbooked myself for as long as I could remember, so not having things preplanned for me was difficult and left me feeling like I wasn't doing enough with my life. I had a lot more time to be with myself, which I hated at first. I was overthinking everything and digging myself into a place that I didn't know if I would ever get out of, but with time I learned that taking moments to slow down and connect with ourselves is so utterly important. I've been hearing people tell me this for years, but it really stuck after a while and I truly started to believe it.

Lesson 2 - When building a relationship with another person, it is important to note and be mindful of your differences in the ways you communicate in order to learn a way you can effectively communicate with one another. There is no relationship if there is no communication. Going off to college, as many people experience, can be scary if you're going in without knowing anyone. I quickly learned that the new people in my life didn't know the ways I communicated yet. They didn't know my social ques, or how I responded to certain actions. Having the ability to communicate how I communicate in order to actually build a relationship with another person truly became the most important thing in meeting and learning new people.

Lesson 3 - If you try something and end up not liking it, you can change course once again. I have said this many times now on this blog and in my life as I live by this, but it is important to try new things, and if you don't like them, you can adjust your course again. Within this year I changed my major 4 times and have been at 4 different schools in the last year and a half. Is change hard sometimes? yes, but you never know where you'll end up if you stay where you've always been. If you try something and you're not happy with it, you can try something else instead. Nothing has to be permanent and you're in control of your own life.

Lesson 4 - As much as we wish we could, we cannot fortune tell the future, and we need to make the choices that bring us the most peace. In deciding to transfer, I remember being so flustered about it as I was seeking answers to my questions in other people, rather than myself. I over analyzed it to the point that I didn't even know what I wanted and instead just thought I wanted what everyone else was telling me. I wished I could look into the future and see the differences between transferring and staying at Eau Claire, but of course, we cannot do that. I had to make the best-educated guess while listening to what my head and heart were telling me and the choice that brought me the most joy at the time was to transfer, try something new and to be brave.

Lesson 5 - Not everyone has your best interest at heart, so you need to stick up for yourself as there won’t always be someone there to stick up for you. This goes hand-in-hand with a few other of the lessons, but I truly learned that you need to stick up for yourself. I have the MidWest syndrome of being passive-aggressive, but I learned through different situations and experiences this year that I truly am the only one that knows my best interests at all times and you shouldn't take disrespect of any kind from anyone. I found my voice in that regard.

Lesson 6 - The most important relationship you will ever have is the relationship with yourself. I feel like this has been talked about more and more recently with COVID, but it really is true. The only person that will be in your life 100% of both your good and bad days is yourself. The way you talk to and feel about yourself influences and determines a whole lot in your life. If you don't know how special you are, or if you don't have a good relationship with yourself, it will, in turn, be easier for others to mistreat you, and/or easier for life to pass you by without being truly happy and capable to your full capacity.

Lesson 7 - Things can and will change on a moment's notice, and the easiest way to make it through is to just go with the flow. As we all learned with COVID, everything can change on a moment's notice. Most of us weren't expecting it and it shocked all of our worlds. Appreciate the good and bad at the moment because everything can change in your life in a matter of seconds. That doesn't mean it's always change for the worse, sometimes it changes for the better, but if you stress about the change instead of adjusting to it, you spend your time in either the past or the future and not in the present. This is much easier said than done, but it is something to practice each and every day.

Lesson 8 - You’re not going to like everyone you meet and everyone is not going to like you, and that is 100% okay. I truly started believing this over the course of the year. I met a lot of people I was not particularly fond of, and there were people who didn't like me as well, and that's okay. Spending your time trying to prove to people that you're worth liking, or that you're worth their time is a waste of time. You won't connect with everyone and that's okay. Sure, it can be uncomfortable at times, but you have to be okay enough with yourself to not let someone else's opinion, who clearly isn't your type of person anyway, impact your vision of yourself. We aren't meant to be best friends with everyone, and a couple of truly meaningful connections will forever be better than a million toxic relationships.

Lesson 9 - How people treat you is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. Read that again. There is no need to beg for people to stay in your life because if they wanted to be there, they would. This doesn't mean that people are going to be apart of your everyday lives, heck you can have the most meaningful connection with someone and only speak to them once a year. Many people deflect how they feel about themselves onto others through their actions. This is not about you. This doesn't mean that you're unlovable. You can't control how other people act, but you can control how you respond to it.

And last, but certainly not least,

Lesson 10 - The most important tool we have in this life is our voice, so using it is the most important thing you can do. I think this is the single greatest lesson anyone can learn right now. There are going to be a lot of people in this world that challenge your opinions, morals, and values. There are going to be a lot of situations that seem unfair and broken. You need to use your voice at that moment to create the change you want to see to make this world a better place. We make leadership and social change to be this big thing, but the truth is that we can and should be doing it in our own lives. Stick up for other people, stick up for yourself, stand up for what you believe in, and try your hardest every day to make this world a better place. There are also going to be people that are so stuck in their ways that it may seem hopeless and like they won’t listen to you, but it is still just as important to make your voice heard.

I hope these lessons help you and that you can find yourself in part of my own narrative. Have the best day and week you can and remember that growth is a process and not a destination.

Much Love,



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