I visited Chapel Hill during move-in weekend, not because I am starting grad school, but because I wanted to pretend that was the case. Just about every person I ran into asked me one of the following questions, if not all:
“What are you doing here?”
“How is real life?”
“Do you miss college?”
To each person, I just wanted to scream “DO NOT GRADUATE; IT IS NOT WORTH A SALARIED POSITION OR ANY OTHER FALSIFIED PERK OF ADULT LIFE,” but I didn’t. Because that isn’t true. There are exciting parts of adult life (can someone please tell me what they are???).
Everyone has a right to their time in this magical, heavenly zip code, but entering the real world is part of paying dues toward whatever force helped us get to this point (I think that force is actually just parents and federal funding?). As much as I’d like to pretend I’m a freshman again, and as much as I still look like one, all I can do is offer my thoughts to those who are entering college this month:
- No one will care about you unless you care about yourself. This is the most important thing I learned in college, and I’m starting out strong because you should too. Show up to class, ask for help, stand up for yourself, call your mom. No one knows to stand in your corner if you aren’t directing them to it. Be a flashing neon sign for yourself.
- Say yes, until you need to say no. Saying yes is the first step towards growth. Go out, even if you have class in the morning. Get lunch with your one weird suite-mate. Sign up for all the clubs. You can always unsubscribe later. You can always change your mind, as long as you started by saying yes. If you start with “no,” the opportunity will likely be gone.
- Build a wardrobe. You can’t wear cheap crop tops forever. Not just because they are fads, but because by the time you get through this school year, they will literally deteriorate. Invest in a few items that will last: black pants, a heavy coat, a real leather bag. Don’t wear them to parties.
- Swipe right more often. People deserve a chance.
- You don’t have to explain yourself. If you’re undecided, if you don’t know what you want to do with your creative writing major/political science minor, if you don’t want to dance with that guy. You don’t need a reason. “No” is a complete sentence. So is “I don’t know.” Do your thing, and don’t care if they like it.
- Everyone learns differently. You will either A) do the reading as it is assigned all semester long, or B) you will skim it all at the very end. One of these will seem like a good idea, and the other will give you severe anxiety. There is no shame in either, but both require planning similar to the five stages of grief: denial, resentment, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Option C: deny deny deny.
- The Sunday-morning ritual of rehashing Saturday night’s antics is arguably the best part of every weekend. This does not happen in adult life because you and your pals cannot all crawl into one person’s bed; you will not all live in the same residence. Non-stop quality time is not only very unique to college living, but is also hard to recreate after graduation. Cherish it.
- Don’t buy the textbook until you know you’re going to stay in the class. Alternatively, borrow someone else’s all semester. Note: If you are constantly borrowing books, make sure you’re lending yours too.
- Take care of your body, but also take care of your mind. Obsessing over your health (counting calories, extreme dieting, exercising too much) leads to anxiety, which develops all kinds of problems in your social, personal and academic life. It’s not worth it. Your body is working really hard to take on its official adult form, and for a lot of people, that continues well into the next decade. Be good to it; it’s the only one you have.
- Read for pleasure. Do it over the holiday break if you can’t make time during the semester, but the active choice to read something that isn’t assigned will expand your mind in ways that professors wish they could.
This is an excerpt from Tiny Beautiful Things, a book given to me by one of two roommates who crawled into my bed every Sunday morning for all of senior year. I wish I could make everyone read it, but since I’m not a professor yet, I’ll leave this here:
“You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.
You have to pay your electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got.”
You won’t know what you want with your life for a long, long time. Stop asking other people; stop asking yourself. The answer will come.
Just do life, as it is, right now.