By the time senior year arrived, I was certain I would attend the University of Michigan and become a Wolverine like my mom. If you had told me that I would instead be offered a scholarship and paid research position at Michigan State University--an opportunity I’d be crazy to pass up--I wouldn’t have believed you. It was quite literally the first time in my life where everything completely deviated from the plan. Before I knew it I was a part of the Spartan community, the biggest rival of my previous dream school.
Upon joining the Community-AID Lab, I was surprised to find that I was the only undergraduate to be a part of this group of individuals with infinitely more experience in the research field than myself. Before I knew it I was given the opportunity to organize a teen dating violence intervention within a Michigan public school district. Immediately I thought to myself, “how on earth do I have the authority to do any of this?”. I had previous experience with organizing a similar program my senior year in Massachusetts, but never as a researcher from a respectable university.
With the arrival of February--Dating Violence Awareness Month--our lab lead assigned me a research task pertaining to gender equality that could potentially result in a published paper with my name under authorship. I have a great poker face: upon being assigned the project I appeared confident in my abilities to do the job correctly. But on the inside, I again asked myself how the hell anyone could put this much trust in an 18 year old to get this job done.
Even as I get more comfortable working within the field of research, I still constantly get the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing and that I’ll royally screw everything up. That said, I’ve learned this feeling isn’t a result of those around me misjudging my competence--it’s due to the fact that for the first time in my life I’ve been asked to do a job that is out of my comfort zone and was never in my previous life plan. Truthfully I’d be much more comfortable with the school directors asking me to get onstage and perform a full ballet than advising them on a possible intervention for their students. However, staying in your comfort zone only results in stagnation. I haven’t even completed my first year of undergraduate education and I’ve broadened my skill set more than I ever thought possible. Growth can only result from saying yes to unfamiliar and even uncomfortable experiences, but more importantly, a willingness to learn and challenge yourself. You have to be willing to take a backseat and become satisfied with baby steps, but the personal growth in payoff will be monumental.