3 Things I Would Tell My College Self
As I’m now firmly into my 32nd year on this planet, I find myself thinking back on my college days. Everyone—and by everyone, I mean the all-knowing “they”—said that college would be the best years of your life. Enjoy it now, they say, because it doesn’t last forever. College, after all, is the big foray into the “real world,” a world almost certainly full of high-paying jobs, your own home (your own rules), and of course, adulting.
What is given a cursory pass, however, is that college is the first time we find ourselves outside our comfort zone — our parents, our bed, our friends — and in the unique space in time that we can have so many experiences for the first time. When you think back on your college experience, what do you remember? Do you remember the first time that you drank a beer, fearfully looking around for an adult to reprimand you? Do you remember the first time you pulled an all-nighter in the library cramming for a too-hard science test? The class you slid in late to, hungover from the night before? The friends that you made? The classes you attended? The tests you passed? Failed?
College is that special blip on the radar. In the words of Britney Spears, not a girl, not quite a woman.
But for me, when I look back on my college experience, I find myself focused on so much else. I was a first-generation college attendee. I didn’t have my parent’s money for food or rent (to say the least we were hard-pressed). I had taken out as many student loans as possible to pay for school. Of course, many would say that this is the millennial way of doing things, but I was set on going to school and being successful and showing my parents (and the world) that it was the right decision. That leaving my small town for bigger and better things was the absolute right path for me.
Now, at 32, when I talk to my fiance, I realize how different our days were. He looks back at Texas Tech fondly, reminiscing on events and formals and late nights. I think back to the two jobs that I worked, the struggle I had making friends, the need to find my way in life. I was so concerned about how much money I could make bartending on a Saturday night that I skipped social outings. I obsessed over my GPA, my college ranking, and my honor standing. This is not to say that these things aren’t important. They are! But these precious years in time are so important, so special, that I wish someone would have told me then, what I know to be true now.
Experience it all.
Welcome to college. Welcome to freedom. This is your time to truly find yourself. What do you like to do? Who do you want to become? What are the issues and matters that matter to you?
Your parents spent 18 years raising you—helping to create a noble platform for all future endeavors—not for you to shirk into the background, but for you to shine. You know the difference between right and wrong, so there’s no chance of making a poor decision. Each one of these decisions only helps you chip away and define your future character. Make a mistake. Learn from it; grow from it.
Join an activity that you’re passionate about. Make a new friend. Stay out late on a Saturday night. Sleep in on Sunday. Take these four years for what they are here to give you.
Enjoy the moment.
Look around. You are fortunate to be here. You deserve to be here. Savor the moment and appreciate that this time is fleeting.
Grades are important, but no one will look at your GPA on your resume. Also, all-nighters kind of suck. That image you have of a library surrounded by all your friends with endless cups of coffee. Scratch that. It’s dirty sweatpants, Red Bull, and the annoying kid who taps his pencil on the desk.
The cheap beer will never taste as good once you graduate. Red solo cups become a thing from a Toby Keith song or the occasional pool party when there’s no other option at the grocery store. You’ll never toss a ping pong ball into your beer and drink it so willingly again (I hear there are germs post-college).
Your back doesn’t hurt yet from an overly soft (or heaven forbid, firm) mattress, so enjoy that ratty twin bed now.
Calories don’t seem to matter and pizza is a food group. Packs of ramen can be bought in quantities for a $1. Metabolism is a gift of youth.
Friends come and go and most boys aren’t worth it, but you’ll make friendships that transcend oceans and time and space.
Life is easy now.
3 hours of class a day? Sure seemed rough in college, but I’d gladly trade in an eight hour workday for the chance to take a nap at 3 p.m.
The stories of people becoming millionaires by 30? It can happen, but these people were college students just like you. Michael Dell. Steve Jobs. Hell, even Martha Stewart probably had a wild tale or two to tell about college. Build your friendships and nature the connections you make. The work and long hours will come.
That crummy food court job that you work one Saturday a month? That is the easiest job you will ever have. The boss that just grinds your gears when you’re five minutes late? You haven’t seen anything yet.
Your furnished college apartment? This will be the least stressful place you’ll ever live. This apartment exists in a world free of mortgages, insurance and PMI. It’s free of yard care, sprinkler malfunctions and homeowner repair jobs. It’s the only time in your life that you willingly live with 6 other strangers. That kitchen might be tiny, but do you really cook? Oh and rent will never again cost less than $600.
In fact, college is the only time in your life that you’re almost completely devoid of responsibilities, yet old enough to enjoy it. Stop trying to be an adult and “grow up.” Live your life. Right now.