On my first night of college, I dropped my phone in the toilet.

My parents had moved me to my dorm room that morning, and I had only met my roommate a few hours before. As we traipsed around doing orientation activities and exploring campus, I felt adulthood sweep over me.

Then I went to the bathroom, and I watched my iPhone drift gently to the bottom of the bowl.

There is nothing quite like the slow realization that one must put one’s hand inside a toilet. What happened next felt like a teen-movie montage. I reached in, pulled out my now non-working phone, placed it next to the sink, soaped and scrubbed every pore on my hands and saw the bathroom door swing open to the world outside, all to the tune of my own screams.

Per random orientation friends’ advice, I ran to the grocery store for rice, but by the time I got lost, reoriented myself, stumbled into Whole Foods and returned to my dorm, my phone was a goner.

I realized that instead of panicking and taking the first piece of advice offered, I could seek help in more effective ways.

Fortunately and unfortunately, the experience served me well over the next year, when I destroyed two more phones. However, by then, I realized that instead of panicking and taking the first piece of advice offered, I could seek help in more effective ways. I went on eBay and bid on old phones to replace mine, visited campus IT to beg for a no-cost fix, inquired at an electronic device fixer-upper store for cheaper alternatives to big-box stores and got to know some amazing Apple and AT&T employees.

In the end, my clumsy phone handling taught me something I wish I had incorporated in every aspect of my college career: how to ask for help.

At age 18, I was not yet a grown-up. Sure, I might’ve felt like I was at the time, but I definitely didn’t know how to effectively seek assistance from anyone besides the people I had known since birth. I had never lived apart from my parents. I had never managed my finances. I had never even gone to school without a sibling.

That is to say, I had never had to deal with the messes of being a not-yet-adult.

 

My freshman year, I let my new-student jitters prevent me from getting to know professors, administrators, and upperclassmen better. I was afraid that if I asked for more information, whether about internship opportunities or schoolwork, I’d look as if I didn’t have it together. The truth is, people would have been happy to help. They would have thought I was curious, working hard to adjust, trying to solve problems and actively seeking out the resources available to me.

But I have finally learned — though it’s still surely a work in progress — how to ask for help. These three, almost four, years of college have felt like a rat race at times with a constant slew of internship applications, extracurricular responsibilities and career advancement opportunities all at once.

Through this process of asking questions, I found not only mentors, advisors and friends, but also my own voice.

Through all of it, I practiced asking questions and seeking help. During freshman year, when some of my childhood friendships were dissolving, I reached out and found friends at school who helped me grow. During sophomore year, when I panicked at the prospect of attending my first career fair, I signed up for workshops and advising meetings to polish my résumé. As a junior, when I was contemplating my second major change and third career aspiration shift, I visited a professor I had always admired to ask for advice.

Through this process of asking questions, I found not only mentors, advisors and friends, but also my own voice. I’ve learned to critically engage with myself to ensure I’m heading in a direction I’m proud of. Now, at age 21, I’ve learned to take care of myself, but not by myself.

As you enter college, you’re going to struggle. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t negatively reflect upon your character. You are in a brand-new environment, and you’re only just learning how to live in it.

When you drop things in toilets, ask for help. You’ll be better off.