Can I just start out by saying that I am so proud of you all? Whether you’re about to leave home for the first time as a rising college freshman, a transfer student getting ready to adapt to a new school (like me!), a senior crippled by senioritis, a grad student, or whatever, CONGRATULATIONS!!! You’ve worked hard to make it this far, so take a moment to breathe, look around you, & appreciate how far you’ve come. College is not easy (& neither is the road to get there!), so take a moment to be kind to yourself & allow yourself to be happy about what you have achieved so far.
But only a moment – college is hard, & you’re not going to get very far unless you’re willing to work hard.
Actually, if I were to give y’all just two bits of advice about college, it would be these: 1) Work hard, & 2) Don’t be afraid to change.
For better or for worse, the way I look at the world, the way I interact with people, the way I experience things, the way I love, it’s all different now. I know it sounds dramatic – & there’s my personality showing – but it’s the truth.
In my post “Why I Stopped Writing (& Why I Began Again)”, I told you all about the ups & downs of the last 18 months of my life, so I’ll do my best to refrain from reiterating what I said in that post. However, it’s true that these last 18 months – actually, now that I think about it, the last two years – have had a particularly poignant impact on shaping who I am today.
I think that a big part of this change was to be expected. In just a few weeks’ time, it will have been two years since I first struck out on my own & moved 200 miles away from home to begin my college career. For many people, college is the first opportunity that they have to really be on their own & figure out who they are & who they are going to be away from the influence of their families & of the world they knew growing up. This was certainly true for me. There were many lessons that I learned during that first fall semester besides what I was being tested on in my classes. Lessons like “Watching Netflix Doesn’t Count as Sleeping”, “Just Because Your Roommate Is Quiet Doesn’t Mean She Doesn’t Like You”, “Actually Doing the Homework is Necessary to Pass Most of Your Classes”, “You Can’t Afford to Eat Out All the Time”, & “You Should Really Eat a Vegetable Now & Then Before You Get Scurvy”. (Well, I’m still working on that last one…)
(Seriously, if there are any soon-to-be college freshmen reading this post, for the love of God, please learn from my mistakes.)
All that being said, I would argue that some of the most important lessons you learn in college are the ones that teach you about yourself. Most people don’t stay who they were in highschool, & that’s okay. Most of the time, that’s actually a good thing. However, I will say this, & I will say it LOUD & CLEAR because it’s important:
Before you leave for school, know what is important to YOU & hold on to it. Don’t let the pressures of a heavy workload, the opinions of others, or your newfound freedom take that away from you. Yes, change is good & you should allow yourself to change & to grow. But always make sure that what you’re changing & growing into is a person who you can be proud to be. Are you scared of falling short of your own expectations? Me too. I’m scared everyday. And do you know why? Because I fall short of my own expectations all the time. And that’s okay. That’s when you take a step back & consider your expectations carefully. Ask yourself: “What is most important? In which areas is it okay to compromise & in which areas do I need to stand my ground?”
I can’t answer these questions for you, but I can tell you how I answered them for myself. For me, my faith comes first. That is an area of my life where I will not allow myself to compromise. I knew (& thanks be to God, still know) that I wanted to grow up to be a person knows who she is & Who’s she is. And yes, that belief & that faith were given to me first by my parents, but ultimately, they mean more to me because I ended up choosing them for myself. The summer before my senior year of high school God spoke to my heart in a very real way, & it changed my life. I call it my “conversion” because even though I’ve been Catholic all my life, that was the day that I became Catholic because I really wanted to be, because I chose to be, because I was firmly convinced in the truth of it & the Truth behind it, the Truth that is God Himself.
I also knew that I wanted to be the kind of person that always did the right thing, no matter what. I knew that I wanted to be the kind of person that was always there for a friend. I knew that I wanted to be the kind of person that worked hard, especially in my studies. Thankfully, I was able to go to a school whose mission really fostered all of these things. Thankfully, this school had a community of students, faculty, & staff who, for the most part, really encouraged me in these goals because they were striving for similar heights themselves.
Honestly, this advice can apply to any & all students, no matter what year of college you are about to begin. If you’ve found yourself compromising on the important things in the past, it’s not too late to turn over a new leaf & begin this school year re-committed. With each new morning that comes, always remember that today is the first day of the rest of your life, which means that it’s never too late to start over.
For those of you have stuck with me thus far into this post, like I said, I know that I can’t speak to your goals & your priorities personally. But I hope & I pray that you will find a place & a community where those goals & those priorities that you hold up in your heart are encouraged & strengthened. And if college is not that place for you or if that community is not very large, then please hear this:
Sometimes, it’s necessary to get up & move on from things that are not good for you or that are not helping you. And other times, you have to fight to bloom where you are planted & be a light in the darkness. I can’t answer that for you. But I can give you some words that have helped me in the past:
The Serenity Prayer
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, & the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
Maybe you didn’t get accepted to the college of your dreams, or maybe you did, but the scholarship you were counting on didn’t come through. Maybe you found out suddenly that your school is shutting down your program & you need to transfer to a new school to complete the last two years of your degree. I’ve found myself in two out of those three situations, & trust me, I know that it’s a hard place to be. If you’re anything like me, you have this picture in your mind of what you think the rest of your life is going to look like & when something happens to alter that plan, it can be difficult to let go of it & accept the change. If no one else has told you this, please allow me to tell you, first of all, that I’m sorry. If you are feeling disappointed, sad, frustrated, angry, or whatever other negative emotions, know that those are valid. Something that you wanted has been taken away from you; it’s okay if that upsets you, but don’t use this disappointment as an excuse to sit around & stew. I know it’s cliche to say it, but it’s true: When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. Right now, you may not be able to see how this change is for the better or why it happened, but trust me, your Maker has bigger plans for you than you do for yourself!
How do I know that? Because He’s already showed me that in my own life. And I’m not the only one. Someday I promise that I’ll write a post about all my friends & all the people that I’ve met in my life who are now doing things that they never would have dreamed they could do, but they were led to that place by God’s grace. His ways might be mysterious, but they are always good.
Maybe you started out at a certain school, but now you’re not sure that it’s the right place for you anymore. Maybe you’ve already declared a major, but the more you get into it, the more you realize that it’s just not what you want to do with your life. Maybe you’re starting to realize that the friends you made during orientation & who you’ve been hanging out with all semester aren’t the kind of people that are encouraging you to be your best self. (Thankfully, I have been blessed to attend a school that I loved, a major that I am still excited about, & friends who have been there for me through thick & thin & who have truly helped me to grow.) These things happen, & even though I have not experienced them personally, I have been close to people who have. This is where courage comes in; sometimes, it takes courage to get up & walk away.
If you’re thinking that it’s time for a change, you’re probably right. Maybe a change of place or major or friend group is exactly what you need & so God is tugging on your heart to make a move. Be brave & trust that He will take care of you, no matter where you go.
But we can’t forget wisdom either. Sometimes, because of certain situations, switching schools or switching majors is just not practical or possible. Again, I can’t answer that for you. This is where wisdom comes in. As much as I struggle with it, there is actually nothing wrong with asking for help; go to God, to your professors, your academic advisors, your admissions counselors, your parents, & your mentors. They want you to be happy, to succeed, to be the best possible version of yourself. Yes, maybe your circumstances need to change, but if that’s not a possibility, then it might be a good idea to consider the areas of your life where your attitude might need to change. You can’t always control your situation, but you can control how you respond to it.
At the top of this post, I included a photo of me & my youngest brother in my dorm room when he & my parents dropped me off at school in Nashville for the very first time. He’s making a face because he was sad to see me go (it was hard for me to watch my little buddy drive away too), but I’m smiling because, even then, I knew I was beginning something new, something good. I’ve changed a lot since that day; I’m not the same girl that I was two years ago.
And that’s okay. I held on to what’s important & I’m still learning how to change & grow & adapt.
I hope that you are too.
Because changing & growing & learning – that’s just life, princess.