My sister’s going off to college in about six months, give or take.
I haven’t been an enormous part of her journey. We’re close enough in age that I haven’t completed the journey enough to have solid perspective to offer her, nor have I really been paying attention to hers because I had my own.
Not sure how I feel about that. Maybe one day we’ll be better at keeping up with each other. I have a weird relationship with my siblings.
Whatever. Anyway. I had a point.
Earlier today I got into the feels about my freshman year of college and remembered what a strange, lonely, confused time my first year or so of college was for me, and I thought I’d be simultaneously a big fat know-it-all and an immense sap and write about What I Learned.
Living is hard work
Surprisingly, yes. Remembering to do all the things that make life run smoothly (eat, shower, do your laundry, go to sleep on time) suddenly become a lot more difficult when you have to remind yourself to do them. Not even force (though that does happen). Just learning not to forget about those things is difficult. I won’t say that you suddenly have a lot of time on your hands. You have always had the same amount of time on your hands. But now you get to be the one to make that into something resembling a day of doing things, and you’re gonna get some things mixed up at first just because you aren’t used to it.
…which is okay
I am only a junior in college, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it never does become the automatic, externally enforced habit that it used to be. Even if you someday become someone else’s parent, you are still the one making 24 hours into a day of doing things, and you’d also become responsible for someone else’s 24 hours, and you might have to fight to convince them that some of it should be spent doing things like sleeping, eating and showering. Some things never change. Anyway, if it takes you a while to realize or accept that this self-enforced productivity is your life now, it’s okay. Your emotions are also now yours to deal with, control and understand, and one of the first things you should try to teach yourself is that frustration with yourself is normal, if sucky, and it usually does an excellent job of magnifying the disastrousness of something you can easily fix. Don’t avoid it, but don’t get bogged down in it.
Living is also very, very worth it
I’ve wanted to give up on more occasions and deeper levels since entering college than ever before. I’m still struggling with that, and this geographically unusual year has been particularly hard. But, and this is part of what I kind of think is the meaning of life, that is why you should do it. Doing things is better than not doing things. I mean, don’t murder. But don’t fight the Sisyphean struggle, either: love the unlovable, bear the unbearable, attempt to do the undoable. Not because these things will eventually become lovable, or bearable, or doable. But because that is what lends significance to your life: the fact that you tried. That’s what matters, Yoda notwithstanding. As someone I don’t know once said on the Internet (summing up this post in one sentence and rendering my blather irrelevant), “To see it all as a shout to the void should warrant screaming louder, not shutting up.”
Translation to college students: Get out of bed. Don’t be afraid to put down your phone for a bit.
Ignore the pressure (mostly)
Assumption: You have gone to college to get an education and to meet people.
Awesome. Me too.
The thing about educations and friendships and the finding of one’s soulmate is that these things are made up of much smaller things, and those small things come at you every day. And if, one day, you fail to study, or you feel too shy to speak to a friendly or cute person, the world will not end, and you have not abandoned or doomed your mission. You are not in a movie, and the plot doesn’t need to move forward in every scene. So if the day has been too much and the cute person walks past you in the hall and you are too worn out to think of anything to say, fine. Don’t. There will be another day tomorrow in which you can try again. This, always.
Pay attention to the pressure (occasionally)
Mostly ignoring the pressure is slightly paying attention to it. To go back to the example that the day has been too much for you already when an opportunity walks (possibly literally) by, letting it go is not the end of the world. Allowing yourself to skip situations that would mentally or emotionally wear you out is okay when you are already hanging by a thread. But I would (hypocritically, as I suck at this) advise to use it sparingly. Saying, “I’m not mentally/emotionally prepared for that” may be a good enough reason to pass on something, but the thing about it is that no matter what situation you are entering, it will nearly always be true. So if you always wait to be ready before doing anything, you might find yourself never doing anything at all. Again, you’re learning to manage your own emotions. Expect the hiccups, but you’ll learn to recognize when doing something would just turn you into a walking grumpfest and when it’ll help you kick some comfort zone red tape to the curb. I think I slightly mixed my metaphors, but you get what I mean.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
There is a peculiar arrogance to eighteen-year-olds which is its own special kind of unbearable. (Says the twenty-year-old. I’m so old and wise. Not. Sorry.) I didn’t recognize this in myself when I was eighteen until I was twenty and working with eighteen-year-olds both as a coworker and as clients (of a sort). Anyway, yeah. The summer before you go to school, you’re gonna think you’ve got this shit figured out. I’m sorry to tell you you don’t. Take it from me: don’t blog about how worldly-wise you are. It will make you cringe later. (Personal experience what?)
(No, but seriously. It is a big universe and you are but a small part. Go look at the stars when you feel really insulted. I promise it helps.)
Don’t take anyone else too seriously
A list of things that college freshmen usually are:
Trying too hard to look like they have it under control
Uncertain of their direction
Fixated on single things (getting a girlfriend, developing an alcohol problem, joining every possible club)
Be patient with your peers (as you also should be with yourself). They will stabilize. They will figure themselves out. So will you.
You don’t have to be instant best friends with your roommate
If you are, great. I’m glad. Really. I hope you’re bridesmaids for each other and everything. (Or whatever it is.)
If you’re not, let me remind you: you’re not in a movie.
All you have to be with your roommate is polite and mature. If friendship develops, you’ve gotten lucky. If not, you’ll find it in other places. Trust the universe.
(Same goes for soulmates or future spouses or whatever. You are most likely not going to meet that person on the first day. Trust the universe. Remember that it likes surprises. Don’t try too hard to guess what’s coming.)
If you are sad, frustrated or feel like you made a bad choice of school, give it time
Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness, said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Whenever you find yourself sad and scared by how much time will pass before the weekend, before you can go home, before you’ve finished a semester or a year or your degree, remember that. The days are long when you are struggling, but when you are moving home for the summer at the end of your first year, the struggles will have smoothed out and you will realize that even the longest days were 24 hours like all the others, they passed at the same rate, and they brought you here. Everything looks worse when you’re in the middle of it.