I spent my weekend listening to lofty speeches about entering the real world and mingling with family friends at graduation parties.
As my sister prepares to enter college, a transition I feel I am still not ready for after three years in, there are a lot of lessons I'm hoping she won't have to learn the hard way.
As it turns out, the process of "growing up" is really just a process of internalizing clichés. Here are some things to keep in mind each year of college.
1. Freshman Year: Drown Homesickness in Experience and Pursue Friendship, Not Popularity
You will be homesick. You will miss Wawa or In-N-Out and driving around aimlessly with your gal pals. Don’t look for best friends in orientation. Bond over your love of angsty 80s movies and your near-universally shared love of alcohol. Everyone is as homesick and insecure as you're pretending not to be. Find friends fast, and sign up for every club that you consider, even if you are quite certain you don’t have a hidden talent for improv or debate. Honestly, YOFO (you only freshman once). Maybe Ultimate Frisbee isn’t for you, but at worst you gain a few friends at the expense of a handful of hours, at best you find your niche, your place, your people. Freshman year is the best time to do whatever. Do not fear your inexperience or the unfamiliarity. College is strictly no experience necessary.
Be too busy to think about home. Eventually, you’ll slow down for a minute and realize that you’ve laid the foundation of a new home.
Once you’ve “established” a nascent friend group (and can stop worrying about becoming the dorm version of a cat lady), it is time to find your people. Don’t let notions of popularity prevent you from developing meaningful connections. College is an opportunity to reinvent yourself, but I’d suggest you discover and express your true self, instead.
In college, you aren’t irrevocably defined by the group with whom you find yourself enjoying late night greasy pizza drenched in ranch. Sure, there are rumors and reputations, and mutual friends on facebook, but you are not defined by your seat in the dining hall. Pursue meaningful friendships aggressively and don’t waste your time with people with whom the most you have to talk about is hook-ups and drunken debauchery. College students say “let’s be real friends” or “we should hang out” more often than they call their parents.
Honestly, haters are going to hate. No matter how hard you try to be friends with everyone, haters will find you. So don’t bother. Don’t compromise yourself to be liked or to fit in. Be your true self, and you’ll attract people who like your true self. Be anyone else, and you’ll develop superficial connections with people who like who they think you are.
2. Sophomore Year: You Do You
Forget “should,” and develop your own set of priorities. Reflect often, and recalibrate yourself. Be intentional with your time. In college, they say “social life, academic, sleep: pick two,” however, I prefer the wise words of Ron Swanson: “Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.” If your experience isn’t meaningful, don’t waste your time on it (with the exception of academic requirements).
If you keep doing things that make you happy, you’ll keep ending up places in which you’re happy. In other words, if you take courses, pursue jobs and internships, and engage in extracurricular that you enjoy, you’re going to (1) discover more opportunities to do things that you enjoy, and (2) be qualified for positions and programs that you will enjoy.
So major in something you love, and if you must, minor in something useful.
3. Junior Year: YOLO, but don’t FOMO
If the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, lives by the motto “done is better than perfect,” then you are certainly entitled to forgo perfection. Another draft of your paper is almost never worth missing the big game, Bill Clinton speaking on campus, or the cleverest themed party of the semester. That being said, it’s okay to stay in and watch The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants now and then, at worst, you won’t be privy to an inside joke. Take care of yourself, recuperate, don’t get caught up in the FOMO.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Make mistakes and make them liberally. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from poor judgment. It is much better to make mistakes now, than in four years from now. Put yourself out there; apply for everything. Even if you fail, it is great practice. As J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series said “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case, you fail by default.”
4. Senior Year: Challenge yourself and challenge the status quo
View your weaknesses as opportunities for growth. Seek activities that will make you uncomfortable, but will allow you to develop invaluable skills, whether it be public speaking, entering a competition, writing for PolicyMic, or going on a blind date. Crave constructive criticism, actively ask for it if you must (okay, maybe not on a blind date).
Pursue personal growth and development. Let yourself change. There may be times where you feel like you don’t even know what you believe anymore, you can’t identify your priorities, you can’t form a single opinion. That’s okay. That means you are changing- welcome it, just make sure you are staying true to yourself: developing and challenging, not just altering or adapting yourself.
Push the limits of your comfort zone. Challenge what you’ve been taught, listen to the other side. Listen and listen and listen, and use your voice. If you want to enact change in this world (and I’ve yet to meet a millennial who doesn’t), you have to challenge the status quo.