Liberal Arts and Self-worth by Jane Paknia

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks


In three weeks, I will have finished my first year as a college student. There are many significant differences between my understanding of myself now and that understanding just one year ago, as I finalized my college decisions and considered my place in this world.

The toughest one to confront is that I arrived at school with the confidence of someone that doesn’t know how little they know, and now... I do. It’s a fascinating concept that I and many students with the privilege to pursue a higher education can attest to called the Dunning-Kruger effect:

Courtesy of The Decision Lab

Courtesy of The Decision Lab


Before I came to college I was at peak confidence. Four core classes later, after a year-long staff editorship at Quarto, participation in a Columbia jazz combo, after endless conversations that could start with “Do we even have original thoughts?” or “What are we doing here?” I find it far more difficult now to muster up the self-confidence it takes to create, even though I feel like I know so much more than I did a year ago.

This critical experience of self-actualization is daunting, and I know it is not singular to me. As someone who enjoys and values creativity (a writer and musician), the endless questioning and the consistent reminders of time passing can feel overwhelming.

The more you think about how little you know and how much the world has to offer that you’re missing out on, it can feel like you’re just throwing yourself further down a rabbit hole, further from the originality and innovativeness it takes to be creative or inspired. But I, along with my Quarto colleagues, have some ways of nurturing self-confidence as opposed to doubt, to make the process of self-discovery and interest-finding something invigorating instead of something that is anxiety inducing.

1.) Speaking to loved ones–these are the people who know you for who you are, and whose understanding or even slight words of reassurance can change your entire perspective, remind you of yourself.

2.) Speaking to professors and figures you look up to–professors on campus are an underutilized resource! When you’re experiencing anxiety or confusion about picking courses of study or envisioning a path for yourself, why not consult the scholars who make us question our place in the world?

3.) Reminding yourself of what you enjoy–this one is more difficult than it sounds. Try making a list of things that have made you laugh/smile/want to create and encourage yourself to do those things more often. People on Quarto enjoy drinking tea, making art, spending time with friends, watching TV, reading the newspaper, listening to podcasts, writing freely (with no other motive), and doing yoga as pleasant ways to spend free time.

4.) Reflecting on how little you need to have figured out by now–think of the diverse paths that other successful, admirable people have taken and the struggles they faced. College isn’t a race, and neither is your life afterwards. Work within your own time zone, your own spirit, your own flow.

5.) Enjoy your small successes–this is crucial! As Neeraj said in his recent blog post, “Birthdays and Getting Older,” it’s very difficult to live your life without future you in mind. Try breathing, taking life day by day, setting small goals as opposed to colossal ones, and appreciating your successes as they come.

Everyone I’ve met at college, whether through classes, extracurriculars, or outside the school environment completely, has had something they deserve to be proud of, a story that only they can tell, a voice to be heard. I sincerely hope that all of us, embarking on this confusing, strange, and unique journey, can discover just what it is that they deserve to be confident about.

Jane Paknia is a staff editor on Quarto. This is her first blog post.