5 Lessons That College Taught Me

Reflecting on what I’ve learned in four years.

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College lessons

As most of you know, college is a very exciting yet very busy period of your life. Trying to balance school, part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities, relationships, and friendships all while still trying to get enough sleep, food, and exercise is a very tricky thing to maneuver. Let’s be honest here, there were days where I was satisfied just to have clean underwear to wear to class.

Aside from all of this craziness, and as cheesy as it sounds, it’s really important that you treat yourself as the MVP of your “game of life. While graduating from college didn’t automatically make me feel like a wise and enlightened adult (quite the opposite, in fact), it did cause me to reflect on the past few years of my life and realize all that I have learned about myself in the process.

Here are five lessons that college taught me…

1. How to unwind

Bed tea and journal

Stress management is an essential skill to have, especially when the social, emotional, and intellectual whirlwind known as “college” is sucking the life out of you.

Whenever I felt like everything was becoming too much for me to handle, I knew that tidying up, lighting a candle, taking a bubble bath, and curling up in bed with Netflix afterwards would always make me feel better. Recognizing when it’s time to put the outside world on hold for a few hours is incredibly beneficial to your mental health. Trust me on this one.

I tend to take the lazy and comfy route, but maybe going to the gym, listening to music, or writing in a journal is what helps you de-stress. Regardless of what you do, give yourself some time every once in a while to temporarily forget about all of life’s responsibilities and “treat yo’ self.

2. How to be content with solitude

Girl exploring city

As someone who spent the majority of my time in college as a single gal, learning how to be comfortable without having a “plus one” by my side at all times was a slow and sometimes painful process. While I’ve experienced my fair share of relationships and flings over the past few years, I can finally say that I’m at a healthy point where I don’t feel like I need someone in order to feel complete. And if you’re reading this and feeling lost or broken because you’re “alone,” just know that you are, and always will be, a whole and complete person, regardless of circumstance.

Society will often try and convince you otherwise. Relatives will ask you when you plan on “settling down,” your pulse will quicken every time you see that yet another acquaintance on Facebook has gotten engaged, and Valentine’s Day continues to exist merely as a slap in the face to every woman person on the planet who’s not currently in a relationship. I’m exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea.

My point is, you don’t need a significant other in order to define yourself or validate your existence. I can’t tell you exactly how to make yourself realize and accept this, but I can tell you that it takes time. Allow yourself to embrace and enjoy your own company, it really is a beautiful thing.

3. How to make my own decisions

Map in hands

I am, in every sense of the word, a people-pleaser. I like to make people happy and proud, and the thought of disappointing anyone who I love and respect makes me extremely uncomfortable. However, I’ve learned the importance of making big and important decisions with my own happiness and well-being in mindrather than that of my friends or family.

For my freshman year of college, I moved three hours away to the university where my parents first met, and where most of my family (including my great-grandfather) attended. My family was so happy for me, and I was incredibly excited to carry on the tradition and make everyone proud. But as much as I wanted to have an amazing and classic college experience there, I was very unhappy. I was constantly homesick, sad, and lonely, and I felt absolutely directionless about my life.

That summer, I decided to transfer schools and attend the university in my hometown. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but at the same time, it was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. Although I was heartbroken at the thought of disappointing my friends and family, I did what was best for me and was therefore much happier as a result.

Bottom line: when it comes to your decisions about your life, your happiness should always come first. This applies to almost everything; relationships, careers, lifestyles in general, you name it. As good as it feels to please others, you are the one who lives with the positive or negative consequences of your actions, so always keep that in mind!

4. How to stay true to myself

Partying in college

Spoiler alert: College does not have to be as wild and crazy as everyone makes it out to be. Sure, partying can be super-fun and it’s an easy way to meet new people, but this doesn’t mean you have to do it every single weekend. You also don’t have to drink, experiment with drugs, be promiscuous, or go streaking through campus like your parents did in the ’70s. Unless, of course, you want to do these things.

Your college experience is your prerogative, and you should never do something (or avoid doing something, for that matter) just because you feel like it’s what you’re “supposed to do.” I certainly did my fair share of partying and going out, and I made some awesome memories and friends in the process; but I also had some of the greatest times of my life just sitting in an apartment on a Friday or Saturday night eating cheese puffs and playing Mario Kart with my best friends.

Whatever you decide to do, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons – do it because you want to, not because you think you have to! It’s perfectly fine to lay low every once in a while and spend quality time with the people you care about, or stay home and relax by yourself.

5. How to take things one step at a time

Busy mall crowd

Okay, if we’re being completely honest here, I’m still learning how to do this. It’s so hard to resist comparing myself to other people and telling myself that I should have the exact same accomplishments and milestones behind me that they do, especially once college is over and “the real world” starts creeping in.

There are days when I beat myself up for not already being in graduate school, having a full-time job, traveling the world, living in a big, beautiful apartment completely furnished with Anthropologie home decor, or saving up for a retirement plan at the age of 23… I digress.

But think about it, how boring would the world be if every person your age were on the exact same track and did everything at the exact same time? Answer: Very, very, very boring. (And complicated, because how could you be a bridesmaid and a bride on the same day? And graduations would be even longer than they already are. No thank you.)

Seriously though, as hard as it is, don’t compare your life to anyone else’s. Just don’t. We’re all on a different path, and there isn’t a blueprint for what you should be doing at any given point of your life.

As a very wise and dear friend of mine recently pointed out:

“Life is not supposed to be some sort of fast-track conveyor belt, and besides, we weren’t given our own unique lives only to turn around and attempt to live someone else’s.”

Your thoughts?

What lessons have you learned in college? Have you had any of the same experiences? Tell me your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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