You know those milestones in life that seem lightyears away but always end up coming faster than you can ever imagine? From finishing high school to turning 21 to getting married and having kids, we always think “That seems so far from now, I can’t even imagine it”. Graduating from college brings the same exact feeling, except I genuinely never believed this day would come. I’m starting to realize that I could never imagine it because it was too painful to accept the fate that one day I would have to leave this paradise. I started my college experience absolutely hating everything about it, from the place to the people to the food. In four insanely short years, it became my happy place, my sanctuary. It was here that I met myself for the first time. In the same moment, I fell in love with myself and everything around me. I met the most incredible people who became equally as important to me as those who share my blood. If I had to go back and greet the girl who walked into her dorm for the first time four years ago, I wouldn’t even recognize her. As cliche as this all sounds, I am so thankful the stereotypes about “finding yourself” in college are true. I don’t have a single regret about the way I spent my time here, and I hope that this advice about what I’ve learned along this imperfectly perfect journey helps someone else achieve that same feeling.
1. Throw out every single expectation you have about who you’ll be friends with.
The single most important factor in creating the most transformative college experience possible is the people you choose to surround yourself with. They will make or break the way you view your time in college. Come in with no expectations about what kinds of people you want to be friends with, how you’ll meet them, what they’ll look like, and how long your friendship will last. I wholeheartedly believe that we have hundreds of soul mates of different kinds that come in and out of your life as you need them. They’ll all serve different purposes; some will make you re-evaluate your entire reason for being here and others will be the anchor that keeps you grounded and sane. Keep the mindset that everyone you meet will have something to teach you. Some will just be in your life for the short time that it takes to be taught that lesson, and others will stick around forever. Appreciate every lesson, regardless of whether it’s good or bad. Through these interactions, you’ll eventually meet yourself.
2. Never say no to a new experience.
Before I even start, I’ll admit that this piece of advice will probably get you in trouble at some point. In my eyes, trouble in moderation is a good thing and a rite of passage in college. Whether it’s spending some of your savings on a wild trip with your friends or joining a club/organization on a whim or going on a date with someone unexpected, say yes to everything you can. The majority of things you do that fall outside of your comfort zone will make you happier than you’ve ever been before. If not for the experience itself, then because you’ll gain the invaluable confidence that comes from stepping outside of your self-made bubble. Forget about whether you think you can do it or not and tell yourself you’ll figure it out along the way. You’re much more capable than you give yourself credit for, but you’ll only find out by testing it.
3. Change is inevitable. Learn to embrace it.
As humans, we are naturally averse to change because it’s uncomfortable and we usually don’t understand it right away. I’ve learned that the uncomfortable feeling, if you let it come without fighting it, is often followed by growth. If there is one thing you need to make your priority and your goal of college, it is to grow as much as you possibly can. This means recognizing that uncomfortable feeling and running towards it rather than away from it knowing that it can only benefit you. Sometimes change will feel exhausting and other times it will feel exhilarating, but both kinds are necessary. Without it, it’s impossible to grow out of our current state and elevate to the next. If you’re feeling stagnant in any part of your life, go search for an opportunity to catalyze the change you need.
4. Bad experiences are actually good lessons in disguise.
Every single terrible experience I’ve had in college, whether it was failing a class, not getting an internship, or breaking up with someone, eventually resulted in one of my most necessary and influential life lessons. The saying “everything happens for a reason” is completely true, but you often won’t realize the reason until much later. I’ve learned to blindly trust that anything bad that happens to me has a logical, good reason behind it that I will one day discover. Not only does this help me change my perspective when times are rough, it also makes me search for and appreciate the life lessons. If you learn to take a closed door as an opportunity to go on an adventure to find an open window, you’ll find something even better than what you initially wanted.
5. Take your time. No matter what anyone says or how society makes you feel, it’s not a race.
This is the most important lesson that I wish every college student would be able to accept, yet I think it’s the hardest one to truly believe. Society pressured us into believing that we needed to go straight from high school into college and then straight from college into a well-paying job that allows us to be completely self sufficient. There is absolutely no timeline for success, especially when success should be measured at an individual level and not according to society’s group mentality which we’ve been trained to adopt. The only way that you will be truly happy is when you stop comparing your life and the speed of your accomplishments to those around you. Select goals that are curated by just you and determine your measure of success on your own terms. Most importantly, remember that changing or adjusting your goals does not mean that you’ve failed, but rather that you’ve become self aware enough to realize that your path has changed.
College is a spectacular, yet not always necessary, launchpad for success. Happiness, however, comes from a completely different place that cannot be taught in a classroom. To those just starting this journey and those about to complete it, that sense of fulfillment you are searching for can only be found when you start to chase happiness above everything else. College makes it easy to forget that one of the most critical lessons to learn here is about yourself–who are you, what makes you happy, why are you here? When you feel lost like the rest of us have all felt at one point here, start with answering these questions.
Last but not least, enjoy the ride while it lasts. I would give anything to live it all over again.