This is a letter to a younger version of myself in college, but each of us has our own letters. We have the lessons, insight and comical sense of reality that can only come from moving through life one day at a time.
Dear College Me,
I know the future seems like a distant reality to you now.
You’re still trying to figure who you are. You just learned how to perfect microwavable mac-and-cheese, and mix just the right amount of cheap vodka with cranberry juice for a slightly-less toxic college drink to pour into an empty water bottle. You’re experiencing life outside of the world you’ve always known, and it’s invigorating and downright terrifying all at the same time.
It’s the high you feel surrounded by new people, dancing your heart out to a song you barely know like it’s been playing in your heart forever. It’s the moments you spend laughing with your friends until your stomach hurts, and cramming in the library beside them with an unnecessary amount of snacks and coffee. It’s also the lows you feel when those floundering young humans inevitably disappoint you with their choices, and the lowest lows you feel when it’s you who did the disappointing. It’s the best and worst moments, and you’ll never get either kind back.
If I had a chance to go back in time, sit down and drink a double shot latte with you at the same spot you always went to on campus, I would tell you these five things.
1. The ‘Real World’ isn’t near as terrifying as you think it to be.
First of all, the real world contains endless possibilities to grow into yourself. You’ll be surrounded by people who have the same dorky characteristics that once made you feel isolated, and instead feel empowered professionally and personally. Most days, you’ll feel independent, proud and excited to learn more.
That said, I know you worry about the financial future even more than most college kids do. The concept of student loans and financial independence are a suffocating and gut-wrenching reality for you -way to choose a private school for those first two years, sister- but it will be OK. You’re not alone in this fear, as it would be included in many adults’ letters to their college selves.
Just be responsible, conscientious and mindful of the decisions you make before and after graduation. Educate yourself about your options for financial aid. Understand the best system for paying off your student loans. Like Earnest for example, they can help get your loans paid off faster by refinancing them. Make a budget. Set goals. All of the responsibilities and decisions that now feel impossible will be very possible when you’re placed in a situation that requires them. I promise. Worrying about it won’t help you, knowledge and experience are the only things that can, and they’ll come with time.
2. Love is never going to be as complicated as it is in college. Trust me, you’ll be fine.
Relationships in college are messy. They’re dramatic, confrontational, confusing and dripping with immaturity. Boundaries and expectations are blurry. Decisions are consistently impacted by the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. Distance often gets thrown into the mix. People get hurt. You’ll feel discouraged. You’ll feel worried, self-conscious and regretful. You’ll be let down, and you’ll let others down…more than once. But get this: my advice isn’t to change anything.
Love freely and make mistakes. Keep trying to figure out what you want and need from other people, especially romantically. Because you will find “the boy” you’re looking for, and he’s pretty great. He’ll bring you coffees on Saturday mornings in bed when you don’t want to wake up. He’ll support your dreams enthusiastically, and authentically. He’ll fall asleep on the couch snuggling with your cat. He’ll go on incredible adventures with you, and always be down to splurge for the bottle of red wine at dinner. But most importantly, he’ll love you every day like a best friend should. He’ll never make you doubt how much he loves you, and nothing about your relationship will be complicated.
So, stick it out for now. This all will help you realize what you want in life to be happy.
3. Plans will never work out perfectly. Be courageous. Be adaptable. Be open-minded. Embrace the unexpected.
You can try to plan your life away as many times are you want, but it will never work out quite how you envisioned. Life is unexpected. New opportunities will present themselves out without warning, your plans will fall apart and the future will shift around in a million different ways. Sometimes the best plan is no plan, or at least being open to the idea of adjusting your exact expectations.
In order words, CHILL OUT GIRL. You’ll get there, and it’s OK if you don’t know where ‘there’ is just yet.
4. Spend time with your girlfriends. Make the most of these days, because they really are numbered.
This one is heartbreaking, but it’s true. College is when you make the random Tuesday night memories with your friends that you’ll never get back. You’ll all grow up, get jobs and move all over the country/world chasing down dreams. You’ll be happy for each other, and visit as much as you (fiscally) can. But nothing will ever beat spending every night of the week goofing off, drinking wine and binge-watching horrible Netflix shows in pajamas pretending to study. Cherish it. Don’t take it for granted, or fight over silly things. These are the stories you’ll crack up about at dinner five years later reminiscing with your girls when you visit each other. Keep these women close to your heart, and fight to keep them in your life after college too.
5. Forgive yourself. Trust yourself. Believe in yourself.
If there’s anything I could tell you, college me, it would be to believe in the contents of your heart. Let them guide you, inspire you and keep you strong. Swear by them, stand by them and let them carry you through the difficult parts of life. You’re always going to have questions. You’re always going to make mistakes. You’re always going to feel a little lost. I know you feel that way a lot in college, because everyone does. What you’ll grow to understand is that the pursuit of perfection is an unattainable poison to your happiness. All you can do is do your best.
Express yourself. Champion the people around you to be confident and brave. Strive towards the things you want in life. Be accepting. Exercise compassion. Take chances. Mess up, and learn. Don’t settle for less than you deserve. Be humble. Be honest. Be considerate. Be kind.
But most importantly, be yourself. Find yourself, and trust that everything will work out just the way it’s supposed to.
PS: Hangovers will get worse, pizza rolls at 3am will go straight to your butt and you won’t be able to take naps during the day anymore. So live it up, girl.