A wise senior once told me that in spite of all he had done — which was nothing short of amazing — that he was nothing more than “the product of his mentors.” Humility aside, this advice was very helpful last year when I struggled to get through classes. Having people with experience can help a lot. Even when not in a crisis, there seems to be something comforting when speaking to someone who has experienced something similar to what you are facing now.
One of the biggest mistakes I made when trying to start something completely new was to try to do it all myself. I guess when I heard that college was where you could be more independent, I assumed that I'd have to pay the price for this freedom by shouldering all the responsibility thrust upon me. Despite how overwhelmed I was, I refused to ask for help since the very concept seemed to contradict everything I thought I knew about college life. Work independently on every assignment was what I had heard from the start of first grade. It got worse in high school when cheating became an issue. Success was based on what you did and how much effort you put in. However, once I finally asked for help, it made a huge difference.
Unfortunately, many people perpetuate the false belief that a person’s quality of life is based purely on the fruits of their own efforts. This ignores many factors including family, teachers and friends. It also ignores the social aspect of accomplishing something. When you get a good grade on a test or when you get a job, your effort is multiplied by the efforts of others who support you. Why do we care so much about role models and what is shown to children on television? A person’s direct or indirect experiences with others can shape his or her views of what they want to do with their lives. The number of people who got involved in something because they had heard a talk or found something that interested them is tremendous — everyone in Silicon Valley, professors, chefs and so on. Chasing your dreams is important, that much is irrefutable. However, those of us poor, uninspired souls naturally must ask ourselves where our passionate colleagues got their dreams in the first place. Did someone, perhaps a mentor, instill that fire within them?
I still tend to try to go at it alone, but luckily, it didn’t take much effort to get help. Asking professors was hard, but only at first. It seemed like such a difficult thing to do, and I honestly believed that it was impossible for me. I knew that it definitely wasn’t hard for everyone else, of course. Trying to adjust to college life was challenging, and I didn’t want to ask anything of anyone, because it seemed like everyone else had their own errands to run.
In summation, my advice is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask professors, TAs or anyone else for help. They will certainly appreciate your interest, and it just might give you the confidence to reach out in other parts of life too; then, maybe some day you'll be the person some overwhelmed freshman comes to for help.