Real Talk. College truths.

My little sister and I are really close. I’ve been a big fan of her since the day she was born, and have pretty much told her so everyday of her life. What can I say? I’m a lover. Sometimes to the extreme, but I don’t care. I think life is better that way.

Sisters

Anyway. I always write her little notes for important things. When she started high school. When she tried out for the dance team. When she auditioned with Ballet Wichita. For her birthday. Etc.

Going to college is no exception, of course. Except this time I’m making my letter public. My sis moved up to KU last weekend, went through recruitment this week and starts school next week. I’m only two years out from college, and still feel very young and lost in this big world, but I think I have a twinge of wisdom to offer baby college freshmen. So here goes.

Dear Amy,

Welcome to the University of Kansas! The best place in the world. I hope you’ve settled into your dorm, and have stocked up on plenty of mac and cheese and ramen noodles.

If they haven’t already, get prepared for people to offer a plethora of advice about this new chapter in your life. People are going to tell you what they want you to think and who they want you to be. People (er, well, me) are going to live vicariously through you as you embark on your journey as a college student. Many people far more intelligent and insightful than I am have written many words about this time in a young adult’s life. I’m not sure my advice will be particularly unique, but I know you’re gonna dig it anyway. And so I present to you, the top 10 truths about college….according to Erin.

1) These are not the best years of your life. Ok, so I know this is contrary to everything I’ve told you about college. How many times have you heard me say they were the best years of my life? You have to remember though, I’m 24. If I’m lucky, I have, say, maybe 70 years left to live? Yeah, I could be happy making it to 94. So think about it. If college was the high of my life, then what the hell do I have to look forward to in the next seven decades? It turns out, quite a lot. I’ve already had some amazing moments that outshine many parts of college. Life is so much bigger than we even realize. That being said, college was pretty damn awesome. The four years I spent at KU will always be some of the best years of my life, but certainly not all the best years of my life. I thought it important that I express this to you at the beginning of this letter, because you will graduate. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but you will leave this place. And when you do, I want you to know, that the real world is not as scary as everyone says it is. I thought the world was ending as my graduation date approached. In a way it was. But in a much bigger way, it was really only beginning.

Which brings me to…..

2) You are young. I didn’t even realize how young I was until I graduated. Then I entered the work force, and I just faked it until I made it. In fact, that’s still my day-to-day strategy. There are people who have been working at my office for almost twice as long as I’ve been alive. I’m just a tiny tot, really. I never really felt young in college though. Partly because I was surrounded by people my age, who all made mistakes similar to mine. I felt like I had a handle on things. Like I knew what I was doing. You feel on top of the world when you’re 18. After all, mom and dad dropped you off right? You no longer have a curfew. You can do anything you want whenever you want to. You know what you’re majoring in. You have all the answers, right? Wrong. You’re really just a baby, albeit a very independent one. But think for a minute about alllll the life ahead of you. When someone older offers you some advice, listen. You don’t have to act on it all the time, but do listen. Even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. Especially if it’s something you don’t want to hear.

3) You won’t have this back. Not this moment or the next one. Not this month. Not this year. Take it all in. Digest it slowly. When you’re walking down the hill, and glancing at that breath-taking view of Fraser Hall. Stop. Hang onto that moment. You will never be 18 and carefree and full of hopes and dreams again. These moments are fleeting. You might think four years is forever. I mean, it was in high school right? (Didn’t those years draaaag?). It’s not. It’s the blink of an eye. Remember how I said these years won’t be the best of your life? No, probably not the very best, but they will be a very unique time in your life. You will never again live with a few thousand of your closest friends, be exposed to so many different opinions and viewpoints, attend classes you’re passionate about, and discover what makes you come alive. These things are all beautiful, and so damn special. Hold onto them.

4) Good grades do not necessarily equal success in the workforce. Unless you’re an engineer, a 4.0 won’t get you a job. School is important. You should study and pass your classes, and do your very best (as I know you will). But please, don’t kill yourself over a 4.0 GPA. It’s not worth it. Sure, it’s impressive, but employers care more about your work experience and what you can do for their company/agency. Instead of focusing exclusively on grades, start gaining work experience as soon as possible. Seriously, wrack up those internships. They’re so valuable.

5) Be present. When you’re at a basketball game cheering on the fabulous Jayhawks, don’t worry about that paper due at the end of the week. Just be a fan. Be a college student. Look at the people standing to your left and your right, remember their faces, scream your lungs out, and start on that paper first thing in the morning. No use worrying about it when you’re somewhere else.

6) Make new friends, but keep the old. You will meet amazing people. Some who will be by your side for many years to come. But you also already have some pretty amazing people in your life. You’ve always been a great friend, full of empathy and compassion, so I don’t really need to mention this to you, but try not to get too swept up in all the newfound excitement. Remember all of the people who stood beside you and helped you get to this place. That being said, don’t shut the new people out either. Try to find a balance. It’s easier said than done. Good luck. It’s trial and error. Just like everything else.

7) Mom and Dad miss you. Call them every now and then. It’ll make their day.

8) You will mess up, and it’s OK. I learned some of my greatest lessons during my lowest times in college. I learned some of the worst things I am capable of, and my capacity to hurt others. You will experience this too. There will be times when you won’t be kind. When you will be boldly asking those in your life to take you as you are, with all your imperfections. And those who love you will. But learn from these moments. Let them be reminders that we all have demons, and we are all capable of some pretty shitty things, but that our desire for love and understanding is far greater than our ability to harm. Also, don’t leave passive aggressive notes for your roommates. Just talk to them. I know it’s hard. I am not a shining example of this, but I promise that open communication will make your life so much better.

9) There will be hard times. I remember going through my first finals week all like, “IS THIS THE FABULOUS COLLEGE EXPERIENCE EVERYBODY WAS TALKING ABOUT?! WTF IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!” It’s rough. You will be stressed the efffff out. You will study all night long, and be doped up on coffee and energy drinks. There will also be times when people will let you down. You will be ditched. People will keep secrets from you. There will be lonely times, just like at any other stage of your life. You will get through it, and you will be better for it.

10) Above all else, be true to yourself. And know that I will always be here. No no no no matter what. You can come to me with anything. I love you, and I’m proud of you. And this song’s for you:

All my love,

Your big sis

One year later…

It’s pretty easy to get down as a millennial these days.

Just spend a minute surfing the internet and you’ll likely find several stories like this one or this one or this one telling you all about how screwed our generation is.

After college we move back home with mom and dad. We will have as many as seven different jobs before we turn 30. We will struggle to one day own homes, and we graduate from college with an average debt of about $20,000. Add the worst job market since the Great Depression, and the future (if possible) looks even more grim.

All of this was on my mind as I walked down the hill last May. It was difficult for me to enjoy my graduation. I was proud of my accomplishments, but I was not excited for what was to come next.

In the year since, there has been a little of all that I dreaded. There has been stress and uncertainty, but I also never expected to be this happy. While my life isn’t perfect, the so-called awful world of post-grad life is a little bit more sunny and inviting than I imagined.

Continue reading “One year later…”