Written by Lila Etter
When the newness is gone, does the malaise set in? Halfway through and taking a break before Round Two, Bwog babe Lila Etter decided to prepare for the second half of her sophomore year by reflecting on the first.
It was a little over four years ago when I first learned the full definition of the word “sophomoric.” I had just finished my freshman year in high school, and during the first week of summer my dad made a (somewhat facetious) comment about how he couldn’t wait for me to become truly sophomoric. He made this comment in front of me, but directed toward my mother, who smiled, nodded, and said, “You’re right. If we already thought she was a know-it-all, she’s about to be downright insufferable.” My confusion was evident, so they humored me with an explanation. As a soon-to-be sophomore in high school, I was about to take on a new persona of increased pretension. Sophomoric, as in: one’s second year, but also as in: intellectually overconfident and conceited, while simultaneously immature.
I, of course, resented this accusation at the time, labelling it as premature and overly critical of teenagers. Hindsight really is 20/20, though. Reflecting on what I was like as a sophomore in high school and as a fifteen-year-old, I know now that I was no exception to any rule about adolescent attitude. I was outspoken and precocious, aware of my own intellect and ready to defend it at any time, whether or not the situation actually called for it. I favored obscure books I thought no one else knew. I felt wise beyond my years and enjoyed praise from adults affirming that I carried myself with the assurance of a “much older girl.” This sophomoric nature irritated my parents when it manifested itself as correcting their grammar, dismissing their advice, and refusing to believe that anyone knew better than I did – including the two humans who had created me. They’ve since forgiven me for this year (these years, more accurately) of juvenile hubris, knowing it’s worth it now that they can tease me for it. I still recall myself at this age and cringe sometimes, but then again, who doesn’t?
Recently I’ve been thinking about the meaning of the word and how it applies to me as a sophomore in college. I’m afraid it’s no less relevant, although perhaps for different reasons now. The associations with “sophomoric” have to do with the sense that you’re acquiring so much knowledge all at once, and you’re nowhere near ready to handle it. Thus you become knowledgeable before you become wise. This feels particularly pertinent at Columbia, with its strongly opinionated, smart-but-maybe-not-as-smart-as-they-think-they-are student body. We’re being filled with new information constantly, and we want to share it – whether to inform others, or simply to show we have it.
The result is a collection of know-it-all’s who embrace this quality as something inherently communal; our conceit may be our downfall, but it also brings us together. Others may hate us for it, but we – the youthful, intellectual elite – have each other. I don’t mean to seem as though I’m attacking from the outside, because I myself am certainly a part of this bubble. And as a current sophomore, I’m among the worst of them all.
I’m technically still a teenager (for six more months!) and those adolescent vibes are very much present and accounted for. I’m emotional as heck, although I don’t think that’s a teenager thing for me. I doubt I’ll ever really outgrow my fondness for, say, listening to some song I’ve deemed “deep” and crying/writing/pondering how applicable the lyrics are to my own life. How much I understand this one feeling. How no one else has ever understood it so well. Days, weeks, months, or years later, I’ll look back and realize I was being dramatic, but that won’t stop me from doing it again. If that’s not the definition of eternal “sophomoricism,” then I don’t know what is.
I’m also hyper-self-aware (read: hyper-self-critical), and my self-consciousness increases when I’m reminded of my own naïveté. It’s not all bad. Being cognizant of my own youth and all that entails — foolishness, mainly — allows me to revel in my emotions as they come. And there are many, often all at once. This past semester alone has been full of them.
Emotions including, but not limited to:
- familiarity with New York City
- ensuing fears that this familiarity would inevitably lead to boredom
- relief at this fear being wholly untrue
- comfort with established friends and inside jokes
- giddiness at meeting new, cool, cute, interesting people (i.e., getting crushes, of the friend variety and otherwise)
- self-doubt whenever I felt I wasn’t working as hard or as much as the people around me
- acceptance that this was sometimes just going to be the case (related: beginning to tackle Imposter Syndrome)
- learning to be idle and unproductive and loving it
- pressure to match the fun/excitement/frenzy that was last year
I came back to school with all of the normal feelings they tell you are “typical” of your sophomore year. This includes the infamous Sophomore Slump™: alternately defined as either lethargy or jitters, the term has come to characterize most “second attempts.” A band’s sophomore album will never measure up to the first, they say. Second seasons and prequels are doomed for low ratings and disappointment. Likewise, entering into sophomore year somehow seems to have so many more expectations attached to it than entering into college the first time around. This phenomenon provokes thoughts like: What if this year isn’t as good as last year? What if I can’t live up to the standards I set for myself as a freshman? What if my first year was just a fluke?
The sophomore slump is undoubtedly real — it just happens differently for different people. I felt it coming back to school after Thanksgiving and finding it entirely impossible to locate my motivation to do any work. One friend expressed that she was constantly comparing moments this semester to last year and finding herself disappointed. Another told me he missed the newness of being a freshman, of being recognized as the rookie. I still feel like the baby, he said. Only now, I’m the only one who knows it.
I have no definitive conclusions about what it means to be a sophomore, at Columbia or anywhere else. But I take heart in knowing that my experiences are not singular. In fact, I’m tempted to make the claim that they’re somewhat universal.
Self-conscious. Complacent. Stale. Dissatisfied. Burnt out. It’s all okay. Because we’re all feeling it. And once you identify those feelings as the notorious Sophomore Slump, they’re easier to handle.
Then again, feel free to dismiss those thoughts. I mean, I’m only a sophomore. What do I know?
Tags: bwog does personal pieces every once in a while ya know, self-described ivy league pretension at its finest, sentimental af, so meta, sometimes bwog has feelings! sorry mom!, sorry bout it, the rhyme in the byline was (un)intentional, we apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused, winter break is the time for meditation (see: Meditations On Carman), words from a wise fool