I graduated from college five years ago this May, and as I see young people that I knew when they were just toddlers go to college, I’ve been thinking about the person I was at age 18 and what I learned in those four years at school.
I would never, ever say that I did college well, that I had the perfect, idyllic college experience; but it did teach me a lot about who I was, what I was capable of handling, and what kind of life I wanted to live as an adult. It placed people in my path who taught me about different ways of life, of living, of being. It taught me that I didn’t have all the answers, and that I probably never would.
College is a turbulent time, when you’re simultaneously having the time of your life and absolutely terrified about the future.
It can bring with it some of the highest highs and the lowest lows. It can feel like both everything matters too much and nothing matters at all.
The most important thing to walk into college with is an open mind and an open heart, but remember these five things, too:
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There’s More To College Than Grades…
I spent a lot of time and emotional energy in college worrying about my grades, trying to make summa cum laude, trying to get published, trying to do everything and do it well, that it eventually took a huge toll on my mental health. I turned down lot of chances to do fun things with my friends just so I could, like, sleep on the weekends and retreat into myself.
In my later years, when I was writing my thesis and prepping for my senior show, I was barely, barely holding it together. Just bombing one assignment or having a professor express disappointment could send me into an explosive tailspin.
My point here is, your grades are important; I’m not telling you to ignore your coursework and skip class and never study. What I am telling you is that your grades are not a direct reflection of your worth. One 3.0 won’t ruin your GPA or make you unemployable. Don’t sweat it so much.
But You’ll Never Have This Chance Again
Unless you go on to graduate school or get a PhD or do another kind of post-graduate program, you’ll never again be in a structured environment where you’re encouraged to just…learn and explore and be passionate about things? And even in those programs, you won’t have the chance to explore outside your declared major with the safety net of classes of like-minded and supportive peers.
Relish this. Revel in it. If you have the space in your schedule, take a class that interests you just for the hell of it. Some of the coolest classes I took were outside of my major, and they sparked interests that I never, ever would have nurtured or integrated into my creative practices.
This is especially, especially true about being around peer groups.
The thing I miss the most about college is my workshop classes where folks were constantly looking at my art and writing and providing key feedback or fresh perspectives. That constant stream of feedback and collaboration made my work so much better, and while a work environment is very similar, especially in a creative role, its not the same as just chilling in the studio with your friends while painting or setting type.
Nothing Is Forever
College can be some of the best years of your life, but it can also be some of the worst.
A lot of shit ish can go down: you can develop some devastatingly bad habits, you can get into toxic or abusive relationships, your mental health can change. You can fail out. Someone in your family could get sick, or die.
The likelihood of you having to ride out some tough times, some dark times, is high.
It may be the first time you’re plunged into the darkness; it may be the first time you’ve had to navigate it without your family at your back, or it may be the first time you’ve been in an environment that enables your destructive tendencies, rather than your nurturing ones. It’s hard; I won’t lie. It’s so hard that you may feel like you’ll never be happy or normal again.
But you will, for the most part. The clouds will break, you’ll learn, you’ll develop new and good habits, you’ll walk away from the people who aren’t good for you, you’ll get the help you need.
It may take some time, longer than you think, but nothing is forever; not how you’re feeling, not what’s happening to you, not what universe throws at you. Nothing is forever. You’ll get through it.
This is the first time in your life that you’re able to create the life that you want, outside of the structure of the life your family has created for you. It can feel, at first, like this is your time to go wild, and it is — go wild, for a little while. Eat ice cream for dinner. Get absolutely slammed on wine coolers. Try the things you’ve always wanted to try.
But, the habits you form over the next four years will follow you into your adult life, whether that’s meticulously planning your schedule every week or eating your feelings in front of Love Island when you go through a breakup.
Pay attention to how your habits make you feel, and do your best to create new ones, good ones, while you have the freedom and ease to do so.
As crazy as it sounds, and for how out-of-your-mind busy you feel when you’re in college, it will only get harder the older you get, when you’re working a 9 to 5 or continuing your education or starting a family.
Start the good habits now. Start the life-building now. You won’t regret it.
It’s over so fast. Savor it. Make friends. Take photos. Have inside jokes. Learn a thing or two. Try something new. Expand your horizons. Blow your own mind. Enjoy it while you have it.
What do you think?
What life lessons did you learn in college? Which did wish you knew when starting college? Let me know in the comments below?