It’s become cliche that, in our youth, we hear from our parents and older peers that our time in the traditional education system is one that flies by–in the blink of an eye you are handed a diploma that signifies four years of memories and lessons from college that have shaped you into the individual you are today. We motioned through high school, distracted by innumerable streams of gossip and our placement within the social hierarchy just to close the chapter recognizing that our time is limited. For many, we flow through college in this similar transitory manner. Yet, amidst long caffeinated weekday nights and binge-drinking-filled weekends, this idea of the finite-nature of our college years doesn’t seem to hit home despite our previous experience. Perhaps as a symptom of willful ignorance, we choose to ignore the magnitude that is our bounded time as a young, broke, and dumb college student. While this may cause less importance being placed on moments that should be grasped and held onto, I personally believe in this testament of being present with those you love, to be making mistakes that you will regret but invariably learn from, and experiencing your life one moment to the next.
Yet, there will come a time when, as it has just occurred for me, we are forced to come to terms with the conclusion of our “childhood.” That is, sleeping in till noon on multiple days of the week no longer becomes a sustainable life practice. Or consuming copious amounts of alcohol multiple times a week no longer is “cool” but becomes “a drinking problem.” These changes in lifestyle are built upon the foundation of a singular idea: that you, as a 22-23 year-old college graduate, should have this whole life thing figured out. If you don’t, I guess you didn’t pay attention the previous 20-something years, right?
And that’s scary isn’t it? To reach a tangible point towards where others will view you as a form of a solved puzzle. Whose pieces are now fully linked, and, with it, the larger picture of who we are meant to be is fully realized. More often than not, as I discuss with my peers, this is not nearly the outcome that many of us are presented with. We have matured. We have seen more obstacles and have broadened our sense of self within this vast world. But, we still don’t have life figured out.
This past Saturday, I walked past that graduation stage–celebrated by family and friends. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and was recognized as the University’s Outstanding Senior, the College of Business’ Outstanding Graduate, Fraternity and Sorority Life’s Outstanding Senior, and was awarded the commencement’s leadership award. Yet, I will tell you one thing and that is that I still have no clue what I am doing. I am standing at the foot of a mountain that is tax payments, student debt, Roth IRA accounts, and soft-pitch softball leagues with not much of a better idea than when I entered college four years ago. Even more so, I look at who I want to become, and I am even more unsure of what that picture looks like.
I am scared.
Do I have friends who have bought houses and are working full-time jobs paying large salaries? Yes.
Do I have friends who are getting married and beginning their lives as spouses? Yes.
Do I have friends who have dropped out of college and are navigating the world with a better sense of purpose and belonging? Yes.
Therefore, it’s possible but am I doing any of these things?
And, that’s okay.
What I have come to terms with is that every single person journeys through life at their own pace. Some are quicker to reach the idealized “finish line” sooner than others. But even if I am miles from this endpoint, it does not mean that progress hasn’t been made or that I am necessarily “behind” my peers. I am simply moving at my own pace. I am writing my story; albeit, my rising action may have a few extra chapters within it. That does not mean that my story is any less exciting or any less critically-acclaimed than those who have already reached their falling action. Luckily for me, and perhaps for you as well, I am a big fan of elaborate stories.
Despite my perceived lack-of-preparation for what comes next, it is not to say that I didn’t learn anything at all. Here are a few things that I have learned through my four years in my undergraduate career to those who may be currently in college or about to enter college.
- Try and Fail
As a perfectionist seemingly plagued by the constant anxiety of feeling as if I have to excel at everything I do, the greatest lesson I learned through college was gaining the capacity to try new things. We often look at the daunting nature of our goals and become overwhelmed by what appears to be the countless amount of knowledge and expertise required to achieve them. But, what we fail to realize is that our role models started at the same point that we did: with no idea of what to do or how to get there. It was simply a dream. Thus, it is important to take our goals one step at a time. We don’t learn when we win. We learn when we fall to the ground, embarrassed, ego-bruised, and feeling defeated. It is within these moments that we reflect on what could have been done differently. It is important to reflect and to get back up and try again. I promise you no one is going to remember when you butchered that presentation in your Communications class freshman year, but you, as a senior who has become less anxious during large presentations and are now presenting in front of an entire assembly, will be appreciative of that growth opportunity. You are the only thing standing between yourself and who you want to be.
- Is it worth it?
I kept a 4.0 G.P.A. through my entire college career. As a display of this, I get the privilege of writing this bit of information within my resume. However, I question many times if it was really worth the amount of stress required to achieve this tiny sliver of text. Because while the outcome was the opportunity to display this information in my resume, LinkedIn biography, and to boast to my classmates, the cost was that I turned down countless opportunities to foster relationships with my friends in order to get in extra time for studying or doing homework. And when I look back at it, I regret this decision. Yes, it is extremely important to excel at your academics. But equally as important, if not more, is the relationships that you build throughout your college years. Your grades will not pick you up when you are upset. Your grades will not be who you introduce to your children, and they will not be the best man/bridesmaid at your wedding. Your friends will be those things. So, never forget to schedule in time to cultivate your friendships.
- The majority of learning takes place outside of the classroom.
If you ask me about the Federal Reserve’s response to increased inflation or the proper branding strategy for a new product launch, there is a high chance I will completely blank on this information despite what my degree may insinuate. However, if you place me in a team and ask me to lead a discussion, or give me an abundance of tasks and ask me to prioritize my time, I know that the knowledge I have gained through my extracurricular activities will translate into successful implementation of these items. It is through work outside of the classroom that I have learned about managing customer relationship systems, creating a website, inspiring others towards a common vision, creating and allocating a budget, and a variety of other useful tools that I may utilize toward my future success. It may become easy to get caught up in simply obtaining a degree from an institution, but I strongly encourage you to seek opportunities for growth beyond the classroom. These will distinguish you from others, and, I would argue, will be more useful in adapting to what future positions may require of you.
- Start thinking about what you want to do as you near the end of your first semester of your sophomore year.
Notice how I said “start thinking” not “know”. I believe it is important to begin this process of self-discovery earlier than I originally believed I needed to. This may seem counterintuitive to the theme of this blog, but I don’t think I could give proper advice without including this bit of information for those reading. Thus, I urge you to explore various interests/career paths before the end of your junior year so that you can put yourself in the best position to obtain a job after graduation. This may mean interning at several companies in various sectors as to why I hinted at beginning this process early. I say this because you don’t want to reach the end of your college career feeling as if you HAVE to take a certain job that doesn’t excite you because there isn’t any job opportunity in the field you want to pursue. And while social media tells us to forgo salaries to pursue a career we find exciting, I recognize that many readers may not find this as a viable option whether that be from student debt repayment, familial pressure, or any other limiting factor. So, start early, so you can obtain a great job in whatever field you want to be in. Explore who YOU want to be.
- Have fun.
I know this may seem like a no-brainer, but I find that oftentimes people ages 18-22 years old are bred to constantly be concerned about money, meeting deadlines, or always improving to be one step ahead of our peers. Yet, we have our entire lives to worry about those things. What matters when we are young is obtaining countless memories that we can look back on fondly. In 20 years, you will not remember that night you stayed in to study. But you will remember the night you and your best friend walked through the Taco Bell drive-thru just to not be served. You will remember that spontaneous trip you took with your friends despite spending more money than you would have liked. It is these moments that bring joy into our lives. Do not pass them by.
Those are just a few of the many tips I would give to my younger self if I could. Some of these may seem synonymous to the testament of finite time; that is, cliche and overused. However, after four years of college, these are the major things I learned. I hope to carry these to whatever chapter lays ahead of me, and I hope that you can take some of these with you as you continue writing your own story.