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Dear first-years, at some point this semester I want you to do something that scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable. No, I’m not talking about anything illegal – I’m talking about starting the outline of the Heelprint you will leave on this university and setting yourself up for a successful post-college life.

I know there are tons of you who are gung ho about every opportunity and can’t wait to try anything new that comes up. Bravo to you – keep it up! But there are also a ton of you who were more like me my first year at UNC – I got involved in way too many organizations, but I was terrified of putting myself out there, of taking a leadership role, of taking on any sort of real responsibility that would impact others. However, the availability of leadership roles and other opportunities to enrich your experience at UNC are practically endless, and keeping them in mind will greatly enhance your college experience.

Take me as an example. I joined Career Peers as a timid first-year and was essentially forced into a leadership position during my sophomore year because there weren’t enough returning peers. Although I have always been comfortable as a leader in group project settings, having an actual title and real responsibilities was intimidating. I originally wanted to wait another year to join the leadership team, but our director and advisor at the time both reached out to me individually to encourage me to apply given what they had seen me do for the group during my first semester.

Now as a graduating senior I could not be more grateful for their very strong encouragement that brought me way out of my comfort zone. This is my third year on the leadership team for Career Peers, and I even served as the Director last year. Through working with a committee, I learned how to actually manage people, motivate people, and more importantly grew into the leadership skills I already had. My first semester as a leader with a title was a rough one, but what I learned shaped my outlook on leadership and still proves itself vital on a daily basis when working with others.

Even more importantly, the confidence that I gained in my abilities (and the professional skills I learned) led me to an amazing place at this time in my college career. As a first year, I was terrified of applying even to part-time jobs; my first real interview was a rambling mess; and I procrastinated far too long on editing my resume because I was scared of the critiques. As a senior, I applied to an interesting-looking full-time job on a whim and ended up with an offer from an incredible company that I absolutely cannot wait to work for after I graduate.

While the outcome is more than I imagined possible, the process was not that pretty. There was a LOT of discomfort, confusion, and awkwardness involved. When you’re considering taking a step outside of your comfort zone, however far, you will have doubts and fears that will try to hold you back. But growth only happens outside the boundaries of your comfort zone, and I promise you that the outcomes will be worth it.

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