Learn from others but be yourself.
Freshman Advising Questionnaire: What would you like to be doing ten years from now?
“In ten years, I would like to have a career (on which I have yet to decide) and a family.”
When I came to Harvard four years ago, I was unconfident, scared, and a very nerdy guy who had no idea what to expect. Four years later, I still do not know what to expect, but I am grateful for the most invaluable thing Harvard has given me—an environment in which I could become comfortable with myself and my insecurities. There have been many ups and downs along the way, but if I could share one piece of advice it would be to think critically about ideas and events rather than form opinions simply based on your peers’ attitudes. Standing up for your principles is not an easy thing to do, especially when it seems that most of your peers would disagree and automatically attack others whose views differ from their own. I also witnessed many around me change their career paths or life goals based on the norms of “go-to” jobs at colleges, and at many times, I wanted to do the same.
At times I felt isolated from my peers in both views and success, and this feeling of isolation took a heavy-hitting toll. I distinctly remember two of my most stressful Harvard experiences. The first was trying and not being able to—until May—find an internship sophomore year and panicking after hearing about the incredible things so many of my friends would be doing. I felt as though I was the only one and thought I lacked both the intellect and the connections to be able to land a successful internship. It took over fifty applications and fifteen or so interviews for me to be able to find a job in which I ended up learning so much more than I could have imagined. The second experience occurred during the summer, when so many of my peers seemed to have turned into politicians and historians, commenting and critiquing the conflict between Gaza and Israel in 2014. I saw my classmates take to social media to attack Israel despite having no historical knowledge of the conflict and its complexities, with some students even comparing the actions of Israel to pre-Holocaust Germany. This was and is an extremely personal issue on which I have read many books and done much research. When privately messaging and trying to have an objective discussion with many of my peers, I found that although they had opinions on the issue most were not at all aware of important historical facts or of any details regarding the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict. People just clung to opinions because they saw their friends posting. So it became one of the first times I felt the need to disconnect from social media.
What both of these experiences had in common was the pain they caused me when I felt like I stood out negatively from my peers—in the first case I could not find an internship while it seemed everyone already landed great jobs and in the second I thought I had the “wrong” views on an issue that I always tried to look at objectively. I was scared to express my views when so many of the outspoken students would automatically dismiss any view that deviated from theirs as inherently “problematic” or “biased.” I hated feeling that I did not belong, but the reality was far less dramatic than I had envisioned. Just as there were probably many great students who too did not yet have internships by that point, there were also students who disagreed with the common social media trends but were simply scared to express their thoughts. Had I known that then, I would have felt less stressed and a lot less alone.
Of course, being influenced by one’s peers is almost inevitable, and generally, that is more positive than negative. But learning to retain my individuality and values is what kept me sane through the journey. I do not mean individuality in the sense of trying to “stand out” but rather holding values and goals that are important to you regardless of whether they are held by your classmates. Do not alter your views and goals simply because of what others around you are doing or saying; be open to not only new ideas but also to critically questioning those ideas. At the end of the day, you must answer only to yourself. So while many of my talented peers may be aspiring to be CEOs and while I still hope to have a successful and fulfilling career, my biggest goal in life—to have a family and raise children—has not changed. I am proud that the challenging experiences I had while at Harvard strengthened, rather than weakened, my commitment to my goals and principles.
Albert Murzakhanov ’16 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is still confused about how four years flew by so quickly.