Many people have asked me how my freshman year in college went, and I simply say, “It went,” because I don’t know how to categorize it. I’ve had many highs, and several lows. It’s taken me the entire summer to process my freshman year, and as I think about it, Karyn White’s song “Superwoman,” often plays in my head. In particular, the chorus resonates with me:
I’m not your superwoman
I’m not the kind of girl that you can let down
And think that everything’s OK
Boy, I am only human
This girl needs more than occasional hugs
As a token of love from you to me, oooh, baby
At first, I thought this song was for heartbreak and “scream-singing” about what you won’t accept from a partner. But after experiencing the first year of being on my own in college, I can say this song resonates more with my development as a high-achieving Black woman learning to give herself grace.
I began my freshman year 10 hours away from home. Embarking on a new journey and shedding my “small town girl” persona meant growing into “college me,” the version of myself that was going to be successful in a faster city like Charleston. I let go of the idea I had to consider any other opinions other than my own. I was wiping myself clean of the intrusive thoughts all I had achieved throughout my academic career was because of my family and their connections. I was focused on this new journey, gathering all the strength I had to encourage myself I could succeed in a new place.
During my first semester, I balanced several organizations and extracurricular activities, academic obligations, and professional development. I was even having a little fun. It seemed like success. I was a superwoman. I knew I could do anything, so I pushed myself in the second semester. I thought if undergrad was “hard,” medical school was going to be a cakewalk.
And boy, was I wrong.
I decided to take 20 credit hours during my second semester of my freshman year, which included organic chemistry, a class critical to my success as a pre-med student. It didn’t take long before I was drowning in work and constantly exhausted. I struggled daily to keep up with assignments—let alone my mental health. I became angry with myself. I believed I should be able to handle everything that was coming my way.
Doubts began to grow in my head. If I can’t handle 20 credit hours and a few extracurricular activities, what’s going to happen in medical school? What’s going to happen when I’m on call for 24 hours and I must make a decision for a patient that could cost them their life?
I tried to do what I saw many women in my family do: Push through hard times. The women in my family did this with such grace and humility all my life. I tried to exude that same energy, but I couldn’t. And that angered me. In many ways, I thought I was a failure. It seemed I was letting myself down in every aspect of my life. Where was that strength I’d gathered at the beginning of the year? I didn’t feel superwoman-like at all anymore, and that broke my confidence down to its core.
Only a couple of weeks after my freshman year ended did I realize that I had successfully completed my freshman year of college with zero debt, a 3.5 overall GPA—a passing grade of a “C” in organic chemistry—and more connections, all while being 10 hours away from my family. I had strength. I figured out how to schedule study time so that I could actually study. I cut back on hours from my part-time job. I carved out time for self-care. I began to form more meaningful rapports with my professors by attending office hours. I had more therapy sessions with my therapist. I began to do the work and make more positive choices, because I deserved more comfort than I gave myself.
I deserved my own grace and self-care.
What I didn’t deserve was to carry the self-inflicted burden of overworking myself. I realized I can’t do everything anymore, and that’s OK.
So now when people ask about my freshman year of college, I have an answer: “It went great. I found out that I’m not superwoman, and I deserve to give myself grace no matter what.” And at this point in my life, that’s worth more to me than anything.