I’m going to go out on a limb here – this may be the most unasked question of all people in college and recently graduated.
What do you mean by most unasked, you wonder? I mean that everyone’s thinking it, but nobody actually wants to admit it. How do you know this, you scoff? Because I have 2 solid post-grad years to prove it – and shockingly, that’s more than enough.
See, it wasn’t until very recently that I started to uncover this truth. 2 years out of college, you are finally starting (that’s important to note: starting) to feel comfortable in who you are becoming as an adult. So you start to venture a little. You think, maybe it’s okay to bring up things about college without seeming like I can’t let go of the past.
I started this journey by asking a few of my very best friends – aka the ones I was pretty sure wouldn’t judge me – one simple question: Was college really all that you expected it to be?
At first, the answers were surface – Yeah! Best 4 years of my life!
I kid you not: even as those words were coming out of their mouths their facial expressions were changing. Because it wasn’t. But it was supposed to be.
At least, that’s what we had been told. And that’s what everyone else was saying. So… I can’t be the only one who kinda thought it – for lack of a better term – totally sucked at times. Can I ?
And that’s where the sting sets in. Choose your variety, but it goes something like this:
- I wasted my college experience.
- I cared about the wrong things.
- I didn’t have as much fun as I could have.
- I didn’t accomplish as much as I should have.
- I didn’t meet my husband/wife.
- I didn’t make those lifelong friends.
- It wasn’t the best 4 years of my life & I’m the only one who feels that way.
Here’s what I’m willing to bet: The majority of us would say there were some really great times over the course of our college career. Memories made that will last a lifetime. But “best 4 years of my life?” Maybe not.
Hold on, wait, don’t stop reading. I promise this is not as depressing as you’re thinking it is. Because here’s the thing. I’ve really thought about this a lot, and I think that this is okay. Actually, I think this a really good thing. And here’s why:
Struggle = Growth
At the end of the day, the main point of going to college is to become a self-sufficient adult. And that simply doesn’t come without challenges.
Did you study hard for a test and still get a lower grade than you needed/wanted? That was growth.
Did you skip studying for a test or completing an assignment because you were confident you could wing it and were rudely awakened? That was growth.
Did you stay out at a party that really wasn’t a great scene and felt uncomfortable? That was growth.
Did you instantly click with group of friends who just as instantly became strangers at some point and you were left feeling totally alone? That was growth.
Did you date a guy/girl who irritated the heck out of you and you had to hurt them by breaking up? That was growth.
Did you date a guy/girl who you thought was the one and they broke your heart? That was growth.
Did you pass up an opportunity to get ahead in your career through a project/internship/etc. because you were – bottom line – lazy or felt inadequate? That was growth.
Did you go into an internship/project/etc. thinking you were hot stuff and then they were all too happy to take you down a notch? That was growth.
G-R-O-W-T-H. The list goes on. I think you get it.
But here’s the point I’ve come to realize: The things that made it hard are the things that made it the best. If you never struggled in college, then first of all, you’re probably a lying liar (sorry, somebody had to say it). But second of all, you probably didn’t learn everything you could have to adequately prepare you for the next step aka Adulting. The problem is not the struggle, the problem is our perception of “best.”
So how do we change that? Well, for those of us who are post-grad, we can’t go back and tell our 18-year old selves how to do it better. Believe me, if we could I would be there. But I can try to impart my sage wisdom on those of you who are still in the trenches. So here goes:
Social Media is Not Real Life
This is not a new revelation. Countless people have written about it. We say it all the time. But we don’t actually let the words coming out of our mouths sink in. It’s unbelievable! And I am just as guilty as you, but please hear me: Your best friend (or your worst enemy) does not have a perfect life just because they Instagram like it’s their job. I know it’s hard to believe when you feel like you’re inundated with “perfection” on your little screen, but please try to reality check: When people see your insta would they think you have it all together? Probably so. Do you feel like you have it all together? Probably not. Case in point.
Focus on the Best
The true best. The things that are important: investing in your education, investing in other people’s lives, and investing your well-being (spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally). If you are striving toward these things, your struggle is not in vain, I promise. I truly believe that no investment is wasted, even when it feels like it is. And the more you focus on these things, the less that the superficial things will seem to carry so much weight.
Stop Caving to “Busy”
There will never be another time when you have so much control of your time. Ok, maybe not never, but I can gosh darn guarantee you that it won’t be in the first few years past graduation! Right now, you’re struggling to finish all your homework, go to all your meetings, and hit the gym because that band party tonight is a non-negotiable. I know. I was there. But my friends and I joke now about how sometimes we feel like we don’t have time to shower, let alone stay awake past 10pm. Work will take up 8+ hours of your day. It will be so fulfilling, but it will be equally tiring, so sleep will take up another 6-8 hours of your day. Laundry and groceries become a necessary evil when you can’t wear t-shirts and shorts every day and rely on the school to feed you. Bottom line: appreciate your busyness, because it is likely a busyness that you are in control of and enjoying. Don’t let “I’m too busy” be an excuse to skip out on something that would be really great. The luxury will be gone before you know it.
Set Your Own Standards
And stick to them. Chances are, you know what you like. You’re 18+ years old and have had enough trial and error experiences to determine what you do and don’t enjoy spending your time on. If you don’t, that’s ok because it’s another opportunity for growth! But if you do, stop letting other people influence that. I’m not saying be a stick in the mud. Be open to understanding other perspectives. But don’t try to be someone you’re not. More importantly, don’t try to be someone you’re not ok with being. You don’t like the bar scene? That’s ok. You love to go out and be social? That’s ok. You’re more of a follower than a leader? That’s ok. You don’t like to drink? That’s ok. You don’t have the same opinions about things as your friends? That’s ok. You don’t want to sleep with your boyfriend/girlfriend until marriage? That’s ok. Your best is a B+? That’s ok. Just own it. Stop letting other people determine your “success” as a college student.
The thing is, you’re not “doing college wrong.” I know it feels that way some days. I vividly remember it feeling that way. I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t still times when I think what did I do wrong? And through talking with several friends, I’ve realized I’m not alone in that feeling.
As cliche as it is, we live and we learn. And if we are seeking the Lord, we rely on His promises to hold us tightly in His grip, guiding us to avoid the landmines. But we won’t miss all of them. And that’s ok. And the sooner that we let that be ok, the sooner we will really start believing those words that are coming out of our mouths.
They were the best 4 years of my life.