Dear Lauren,

I'm starting a new school this year and I am incredibly nervous. Everyone tells me: "Just be yourself," but I'm not sure what that means! Who is “myself,” anyway?!

Dr. Lauren Roth Lauren Roth's Answer

Every single year, almost every single one of my children tells me that they’re nervous about school starting. And every single year, I say, “Of course you are!” And I say the same to you: Of course you’re nervous about starting a new school! Even if you were attending the same school as last year, I would expect you to be nervous before starting a new epoch in your life.

Lord knows (I’m serious—God knows—I spoke to Him about this at great length before each and every transition of mine!) I was always nervous before any new undertaking: before a new school year, before a move to a different city, before a new child was born, before I started a new job, even before a new speaking engagement. It’s natural. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, said it perfectly: “All beginnings are difficult.”

You might end up loving your new school. Whether you love it or not is beside the point, though. Even if you end up absolutely adoring your new school, you are going to be nervous before you start. It’s a given, it’s natural, it’s to be expected. So stop freaking out about freaking out and give yourself a break!

Whenever you feel the nervousness, just have a chat with it. Seriously! A chat with the nervousness. Like this: “Oh, hey, Nervousness. How ya doin’ today? How ya doin’ this five minutes? You were just visiting me five minutes ago! Didya get lonely?! You wanted to come and see me again? Well then, welcome, Mr. Nervousness. Pull up a chair! Make yourself comfortable! I know you’ll be with me for a few more days, so make yourself feel right at home!”

If you can make friends with the nervousness (and help yourself laugh at it a little bit, too) and realize that it’s normal to be nervous now, I think you’ll feel much better. Remember: don’t freak out about freaking out!

Regarding your second point: I love your philosophical query! Who is “myself,” indeed? I am 41 years old, and I’ve just now begun to figure out who “myself” is. At your age, you’re not supposed to yet know who “myself” is. But the fact that you’re thinking about it, questioning, wondering, pondering—that’s fantastic. The more you analyze what you do want to be and what you don’t want to be, the better a person you will become. Your asking the question is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing at this point in your life, but you are not yet expected to know the answer.

So I think I would change the advice from “Just be yourself” to: “Just try to do the right thing. Try to be kind and gentle and warm and friendly towards all the new kids you meet, try to treat all the adults and students in your new school with respect, and don’t worry about being nervous.”

How does that sound to you?

One more point. Before I started Princeton, I studied in Israel for a year, and I went to a school where I knew nobody. I did not know even one student in the school before I packed up, left Memphis, left the United States, and hunkered down in that place for an entire school year. And guess what? It was incredible! Yes, I was extremely homesick. (That part wasn’t so incredible. Actually, that part was kind of lousy.) But what was amazing was this: because I knew no one, I was able to come to that school and be whomever I decided to be. I could present myself, my personality, my interests, my persona, as anything I wanted, because no one knew me! I thought long and hard about the kinds of personal assets I wanted to project, the kind of entity I wanted to be perceived as, before I arrived. And as I met each new person in the school, I created a little more of my idealized personality. Sounds kind of Frankenstein-ish, right? But amazing, too!

You can do the same, since you’re starting a new school. In fact, maybe the prospect of reinventing yourself will make you feel excited about this new venture, instead of nervous. (Or maybe it will make you even more nervous!! In that case, just re-read the first few paragraphs above to remind yourself not to freak out about freaking out, and that nervousness is natural.)

I think all the readers would love to know how you feel two or three months from now (I’ll bet you will have found a couple of really great new friends and that you’ll find both positive and some negative aspects to your new situation)—so can you please let us know, in the comments section below?

Before I had a GPS in my car, I would try to find new places and often get lost. But instead of being upset that we were lost, I’d tell my kids: “Heyyyy! We’re having yet another adventure!!” I wish you the best with your new adventure!