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The universal week one fear

Why everyone is afraid to meet new people (but doesn’t have to be)

(Courtesy of Pexels).

Here you are, finally. Stanford University. For six months or more, you’ve been counting down the days until NSO, reading everything you can find online to prepare. Your family, your friends, your entire society has been hyping up this moment: according to the cultural script, you are now embarking on the greatest four years of your life.

What makes these four years so great, they tell you? A number of things the classes, the clubs, the study abroad opportunities but mostly the people. Yes, these four years will be the years when you build the deepest, most exhilarating friendships of your life. At Stanford you will finally “find your people,” explore new romantic experiences and have those 4 a.m. conversations during which you reveal the murkiest, most turbulent contents of your soul.

Talk about high expectations.

These expectations, of course, feed an intense anxiety an anxiety which I know you, Class of 2022, are no stranger to. Back in April, right after Admit Weekend occurred, I asked some of my dorm’s ProFros to post a Guide to Stanford that I’d written in the 2022 Official Facebook page. At the end of the tip guide, I left my email address, entreating any anxious freshman to reach out to me for consolation and advice. In the last few weeks, I’ve received a flurry of emails from nervous freshmen, mostly centering on social life. Here’s a representative quote: “I’ve been so afraid that I won’t make friends [at Stanford], I won’t be able to fit in or be myself, I’ll be all alone, I won’t be able to catch up to all the people who already seem to be besties on Facebook (!??)”

Reading this email and others, I remembered my own NSO and the similar fear that I felt arriving on campus. I had struggled a lot socially in high school, particularly towards the end, and I came into college without a single friend to my name. I was afraid that my isolation in high school was a symptom of some deep-seated disconnect with members of my generation, a disease that I bring with me to Stanford. I wanted connection more than anything, but how could I compete with all these other students, these suave socializers, these pop-culture-aficionados who had been selected Prom King and Queen at their high schools? I already felt a mile behind.

I thought I was unique in my fear, given how socially miserable my high school experience was. However, after a year of getting to know other Stanford students, I’ve come to see that my fear was not personal, but universal. Nearly every single person I’ve talked to, introverts and extroverts alike, has told me they were nervous about making friends at Stanford. Some, like me, were afraid their introverted and serious personalities would make them unfit for the high-energy social life of college. Others, more extroverted types, worried that Stanford students would be unlike anyone they knew in high school and that they wouldn’t know how to navigate such an intellectual and socially atypical environment. Some felt alone during high school and feared solitude would follow them to Stanford. Others feared that they’d never be able to recreate the close, loving friendships they’d spent so many years building at home. No matter what the flavor of their anxiety, everyone started with a fear of meeting people and building relationships at Stanford.

Whether you’re mildly nervous or paralyzed by panic, I promise that you aren’t alone. You’re actually in the vast majority of students who feel afraid. This fear means that you care about people and value close relationships, and that you have the sense to know that meeting people is difficult and includes a certain amount of risk.

I can’t promise that you’ll make friends the second you arrive on campus, or even during the course of NSO; you will make friends, but the timeline is highly individual, and you shouldn’t rely on a specific deadline for making connections. Friendship takes time.

What I can promise, though, is that everyone is in exactly the same boat as you are nervous, awkward and convinced that everyone else is making friends faster and more easily than they are. It’s so easy to look around and see clusters of people laughing and chatting and assume that they’re all a mile ahead of you on the road to Platonic Happily Ever After. But look closer: half of those people (or more) are laughing nervously, trying to keep up with a conversation they’re only half following, afraid everyone else will see through their panicked grin. Everyone is “faking it until they make it,” and afraid that they aren’t faking it well enough.

Everyone is afraid, and everyone is looking for some kindness and closeness in this sea of unfamiliar faces. So rather than meditating on your own sense of panic, you have the opportunity to be that kindness and closeness for someone else. Assume everyone is as scared and desperate as you are because they are and start a conversation there. You’ll probably change that person’s day, and perhaps, with a little luck, their next four years at Stanford.

 

Contact Avery Rogers at averyr ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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