Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Letter to my freshman self

5 Mar 2013

Published in the Daily Princetonian February 13, 2013.

To my freshman self, here is a list of some things that I would like to have known three years ago:

Brown is an awesome place to live.

Don’t buy textbooks unless you’re sure you actually need them.

Talk to professors. Do it again. Keep going. This will inevitably be fodder for the stories you tell everyone about Princeton. Since you will also run out of stories to tell, you will need these conversations. Some of the happiest moments at Princeton are about discovering new ideas, ideas that explain something you’d always wondered about or something you hadn’t even thought about at all. That light-bulb moment makes it all worth it. There will be a few; look for more.

Don’t spend the night at Penn Station because you want to catch an 8 a.m. train and the Dinky doesn’t run early on Sunday mornings. Take the cab to Princeton Junction.

Need a book on reserve for more than three hours? Go to Firestone Library within three hours of closing, and keep it for the entire night. One more reason not to buy textbooks.

Don’t be tense about the D you got on that first French exam. The others will be OK, and it won’t suck overall.

Don’t be tense about anything — not worth it.

Being independent is awesome.

Go with the flow in room draw. You’ll hear about horror stories, but the less you worry the better it seems to work out. Your roommates will be some of your best friends.

Take more econ.

Take some philosophy.

Studying abroad is a good decision.

Start your thesis early. You will hear this often from seniors. And you’ll think, “That sounds obvious enough. I don’t know why people don’t just start early.” You won’t start early. And you won’t be able to explain why. So plan to start early. Does it seem too early? It’s not. In fact, it might be a good idea to start even earlier.

You will be rejected by a lot of things. So will everybody else. Don’t let it get to you. If it does, get over it. Dwelling on things that didn’t happen will often take you nowhere. Choose to go somewhere, and look forward. Many things that don’t work out won’t have been good ideas in retrospect, anyway.

Look at the sodium content of the ramen.

Always sign up for frequent flyer miles before the flight.

Apply to everything that interests you. Some things work out almost by accident and lead to other, great things. Those will take life into directions you hadn’t even imagined. Let that happen.

Maybe consider joining Terrace before it’s too late. Go to Terrace more, regardless.

There will be times when you see the world and the people in it as motivated only by self-interest. These will be the times when you are most bewildered, because the only sustainable personal reward seems to come from work that creates relationships with other people in some way or another. But as you navigate this, you will understand the need to strike a balance between preparing for self-interested actions and being motivated by the will to help other people. Want to help other people; keep that alive.

Don’t take a class just to get a recommendation. Hollow motivation can’t lead to good work.

Thinking of buying an electric guitar because you already have a bass and will need an amp anyway? You’ll be indecisive and never buy an amp, so just buy an acoustic guitar. Make it semi-acoustic if you want to make yourself feel better.

With inspiration as with job searches, if you don’t find anything, buckle down and keep going. Don’t stop.

Yes, your ears can feel pain. Buy a hat in January.

Wondering how long it would take you to be caught for copyright violation if you torrent? Not long at all.

There will be times when you feel uninspired and you want inspiration to provide some spirit for creative output. But you will remember a time when you most lacked inspiration as one of the happiest times at college. Even in retrospect, it can be a little hard to explain why. Much of the work you will produce in this time will be good. There will be inspired moments and many more of soul-searching. But there will be happiness in forming great friendships that will be inspiration in itself.

These are some things the benefit of hindsight has taught me. It has also taught me the futility of telling myself to do things the right way. Some things never change.