How to Keep Up with Your Ideals During College

How to be the person we want to be and how to know what kind of person we want to be are tricky subjects which get answered as we get to know ourselves; but how do we walk the walk after talking the talk in a time that is as demanding as college?

By Lara Mutluay September 30, 2020
view of Douglas Lake

College is a time when we take new steps into a foreign environment. Whether we have been living at the same home until then or have been moving through different environments, starting college is the first step into true independence for a great majority of us. From this moment onwards, we discover many things about ourselves. We discover how strong we can be when the need arises, and what our true weaknesses are when we are left alone to fend for ourselves. Most importantly, we discover who we want to be when we see the world around us for what it is with our newly obtained independence.

My “stopping in my tracks moment” happened when I first saw Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue (2014) documentary, which concentrated on the issue of marine overfishing. At the time I was conducting research about the health and exploitation of the remaining coral reefs in Hong Kong, so I was physically and personally involved in the issue. Therefore, it came as no surprise that this topic struck a chord with me. As the ending credits rolled, I decided to not eat any unsustainable seafood as long as I could control it.

I have maintained this habit to the best of my capabilities for the past five years and this has urged me to take on new challenges. While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to believe in or how to believe what they believe in – this comes from a deep place in each one of us. But if you ever decide to do something about an issue you deeply care and would like to improve, I can give you some advice as to how to start in a way that will make you keep going for a long time – and even hopefully for life.

Research your ideals

Once you have your “stopping in your tracks” moment, do not make a rash decision. Making an important choice about what you believe you must change in your life must come from an informed place. Not only are first opinions deceptive, but they rarely represent the depth of the issue at hand. You might even find a class that you’d like to take during your time here at U-M to help better inform you. However academic it might sound, if you are not willing to read up on the issue you care about, you probably don’t care about it enough to put in the effort to make a viable change.

Decide if these habits make you happy

As per the words of advice of my father that I’ve listened to since fifth grade, survival and happiness are the ultimate goals in life. If whatever behavior change you have chosen for yourself will only make you miserable and doesn’t bring you joy at the end of the day, you might not want to make the shift. This advice doesn’t apply to momentary happiness, instant urges, or cravings we get from time to time. The happiness I am alluding to is the kind that makes you feel accomplished and proud at the end of the day. If that feeling makes you feel energized and ready to start a new day, then you’re on the right track!

Start slowly – then build up slowly

It is said that it takes at least 15 days to build a habit. As anyone who has attempted to change their lives overnight on New Year’s Eve will know, 15 days is an awfully long time to be consistent in something. In my case, while I took the decision to cut all unsustainable seafood out of my diet, I actually cut it out gradually over a month. Progress takes time, and if you’re going for long-lasting change, don’t get discouraged by the adjustment period!

Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor

Try new things but don’t overload at once

It might seem logical to take a huge leap by completely changing your lifestyle overnight, but too much change in a short time is only destined to crumble before it can build up to be a habit. In my case, I know that eating meat is not a sustainable diet for all 7.8 billion people on the planet and therefore would like to go vegetarian. But knowing my limits and my inherent love for meat, I know that I cannot sustain an all plant-based diet for life. Therefore, I try to do a couple vegetarian days a week to the best of my abilities. If you’d like to try something similar, I’d recommend trying East Quad’s “Meatless Mondays” or trying new recipes at home with a couple of friends.

Take others’ advice and respect their opinions

If you have watched any standup comedy such as Daniel Sloss’ “Jigsaw,” you’ll know that people love to hate vegans and CrossFit enthusiasts. It is only because both these groups are stereotypically represented as overbearing know-it-alls. If you change something in your life, people who knew you before will have something to say about it. Acknowledge that you are just one person and that your intentions are coming from a good place, and listen to others. You might even learn something you didn’t know, or maybe even start a conversation you never thought you would with that person. Just remember to keep the discourse civil and not take a belittling tone with people who find your attempts futile.

Keep an open mind and admit when you’re wrong

College is a formative time in all our lives, and as you’ll soon see, everyone has an opinion on everything – right or wrong. There will be times where you will find your opinions changed, and I hope you’ll find the strength to rethink rather than lashing out. It is only through constant progress that we learn to make lasting change – however small that change may be.

I sincerely hope every single one of us can find something in ourselves that we’ll want to change in order to change the world, and can find the strength within us to do something about it.

Lara Mutluay
Lara Mutluay

Lara Mutluay is a senior majoring in Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB). In addition to her studies, she conducts research at Freddolino Lab in Biological Chemistry Department at the U-M Medical School. Lara is an international student from Turkey and is very passionate about climate change and how it especially affects marine ecosystems. In her free time, she can be found figure skating, scuba diving, reading or binge watching whatever new obsession of hers is on Netflix.