From a young age, I’ve always loved the start of a new school year for a few… frivolous reasons.
It meant that I had an excuse to change my school bag or shoes, if I persuaded my parents hard enough. I could use new stationery (I was addicted to buying highlighters). And, I got to meet new friends and teachers.
But as I grew older, the opportunities that these beginnings presented extended beyond such simple joys.
As I entered university, I found that many of my peers saw new school years as an opportunity to rebrand themselves: Choosing to present a different version of themselves or taking the chance to switch up their personalities.
Fresh starts can be exciting and there isn’t anything wrong with wanting growth and new beginnings. But it’s easy to lose yourself in this quest to create and embrace new identities.
As such, here are some reflections and potential pitfalls I’ve learned of along the way.
1. Be yourself
The good thing about entering a new phase of your educational journey is the opportunity to start on a blank slate.
Sometimes, our past experiences in previous schools can cause us to hide who we truly are on the inside.
It might be due to an innate fear of judgement, or having actually been bullied.
These may lead us to suppress certain aspects of our personality in order not to attract attention to ourselves.
Going into a new season of school is exciting because it’s an opportunity to truly be ourselves this time.
When all we see are unfamiliar faces, we have a chance to lay all our cards on the table. We can be real without fearing others’ preconceived notions of who we are.
Psalms 139:13-14 tells us: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.
God has created each of us uniquely. In spite of our flaws and quirks, we are all made beautifully in His image.
Because I knew that, I made it a point to be myself when I entered university.
Though I initially struggled with the pressure and temptation to fit into a certain mould, I quickly realised how freeing it was to stay true to who I was at the core.
2. Seek growth and embrace change
Along with a fresh start comes an opportunity to set personal goals. When I enter a new phase of my life, I like to reflect and pen down ways I can be challenged in the upcoming season.
When we seek to grow and change, we are giving ourselves more access to experiences we wouldn’t have had if we remained at the status quo.
One of my goals coming to university was to step out of my comfort zone in terms of socialising. This specifically looked like being more open to people who had different personalities from me, and not staying cooped up at home all day.
Because I set this goal to work on my social anxiety, I opened the door to many new experiences.
These ranged from deepening relationships with people I would never have expected myself to meet, to learning new things from acquaintances I plucked up the courage to befriend.
Being in a new environment inspired me to challenge limits I had thought were set in stone. I became braver to put myself out there, and less intimidated by unfamiliar social settings.
The chance of this happening in an old and familiar space would be few and far between, as nothing would spur me towards setting new goals.
So, if you’re entering a new phase in your education journey, let a fresh environment be a catalyst for your growth even as you seize new opportunities that abound!
3. Grow strengths and work on weaknesses
Sometimes, we make excuses to be stuck in our old ways. New beginnings can be a good time to confront our weaknesses and work on them.
Did you know that God is a God of excellence? He holds all of His children to high standards. Of course, we can never reach these standards without His help.
However, it doesn’t mean that we don’t work on moulding ourselves and ridding ourselves of our flaws.
“Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” (Daniel 6:3)
Daniel was seen as exemplary in all that he did, and we are called to that same spirit of excellence.
We are to be good testimonies for Christ and bring glory to His name.
It isn’t about being a perfectionist or harbouring a competitive spirit. Rather, it simply means that we are to be shining examples for God in the way we act (Matthew 5:16).
4. Stop people-pleasing
Let’s switch gears and talk pitfalls: Some of us run the danger of becoming people-pleasers.
Instead of being unashamed to be fully ourselves, we may feel the need to morph into a persona that is completely agreeable to others.
Unsure whether new friends we meet will take to us, we conform to what the majority thinks or does.
We become so caught up in meeting the expectations of others that we lose ourselves in the process.
People-pleasing is a tendency I’ve struggled with for a while now. Especially in new environments, I am afraid to showcase my true self or share my genuine opinions because I don’t want to offend anyone.
It is good to be cooperative and accommodating in a community. However, it’s not healthy to obsess over what our peers think of us.
Doing so, we will only end up silencing our true voices and placing others on a pedestal.
Proverbs 29:25 tells us: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe”.
Only one opinion matters — God’s. As long as we fear Him and walk faithfully as He commands, we need not unnecessarily worry about others’ perceptions of us.
Don’t let self-consciousness hinder you from living fearlessly for Christ!
5. Reject compromise
In every new stage of life, we may encounter a growing pressure to adopt a certain lifestyle in order to be accepted.
One example is in university, where a prevalence of a drinking and clubbing culture among your social circles could champion a narrative in your mind that unless you engage in such activities, you are “not cool”.
It can be very tempting to follow the crowd. Deep down, many of us desire to be part of the “fun” even if we do not find true meaning or joy in such activities.
In the process of conforming or giving in, however, inauthenticity and insecurity will creep into our hearts.
When we turn away from who God has made us to be, we are led to act in ways that betray our true identities.
We become insincere in our interactions with others. Insecurity takes root in us. We become bitter about our personalities, striving endlessly to become someone we are not.
All to gain the approval of others and to be seen as popular and well-liked.
Say no to the counterfeits that culture puts before you as the things you must chase. Remember what God wants for you.
“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, NLT)
To the person who’s about to enter a new season of their educational journey, it will definitely be an exciting time.
Continue to seize every opportunity to grow, to step out of your comfort zone and to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
In this process, stay true to who God has made you to be. Walk faithfully in His promises, choosing to be authentic and secure in Him.
Do that, and you’ll be more than fine!
- How are you like when you enter new environments?
- Who is someone you can speak to for a trusted opinion on whether you are being true to yourself and to God?
- Have you asked God what is His plan and will for you in this new chapter of life?
- Take a moment to do just that.