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First-Year Takes on Princeton, Loses 1-0

December 18, 2021
Aminah Aliu

When I initially began to reflect on my first semester here at Princeton, I could only see it as a zero-sum game, wherein Princeton bested me time and time again, despite my best efforts to maintain good grades, make friends and get enough sleep. But the inherent nature of reflection is not zero-sum, in fact, it is only through reflection that I’ve arrived at the person I am today, grasping at and combining all of the lessons I’ve learned throughout the years. Now that finals season has begun to wind down and the temperature has dropped suspiciously low, I am here to share with you three lessons I’ve learned from my first semester at Princeton!

Resilience Over Perfection

This has been a big one for me. As what you would call a “high achiever” (read: perfectionist) in high school, I expected that if I just sat down and studied, I’d get an ‘A’ in all or most of my classes. I quickly realized that that is not how academics works here at Princeton! Here, someone can study for hours and hours and still feel unsure walking into an exam. I do not say this to scare you, oh young one, but to prepare you. After taking my first semester of classes—an intro neuroscience class, an intro computer science class, a painting class and my first-year writing seminar—I have learned to value my own resilience over any unachievable notion of perfection. It is only from trying different study techniques and taking advantage of different class resources such as office hours that I’ve begun to figure out what I need to thrive academically. If I don’t get the grade I want, that just means I need to try something new next time!

The Spontaneous Yes is Rarely a Bad Choice

I know I’m going out on a limb here, telling you that your fingers do not have to be perpetually glued to a pencil or computer, but alas it is true! There are so many INCREDIBLE experiences I’ve had here at Princeton, all because I was willing to say “yes”! From learning how to ice skate at UPenn’s ice rink to performing in a Halloween parade, there are tons of opportunities (most of them free) for students to try new things, meet new people and have fun. 

Rest is Powerful

Read that one more time. Though it is easy to fall into a habit of working all the time and always being “busy,” I am slowly leaning into the power of saying no and taking some time for myself. Currently, my favorite self-care activities are napping, journaling and crocheting. I know I just told you to say “yes!” to more things, so this next lesson seems counterintuitive, but it’s actually not. My intentional “no’s” gave me the space to recharge and engage in self-care, so that when I did say “yes!” I was able to fully engage with whatever new experience I was having.  Saying yes to everything is not sustainable, and saying no to everything is a waste of all the cool opportunities Princeton has to offer; developing a good balance of yes’s and no’s is what has allowed me to take advantage of cool opportunities while staying on top of academics and relationship building. It is the key to avoiding burnout.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reflections on my first semester at Princeton. What has this past semester been like for you?