Things I Wish I Could Go Back and Tell Freshman Year Me

The best four years of my life are coming to a close this Friday. I’m graduating from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, with an emphasis in neuroscience, and a minor in Art History. I’ll be heading off to Macon, Georgia in July to start law school at Mercer with a full ride. I should feel ecstatic about this next chapter of my life, but now that I’m here all I want to do is rewind.

My parents always told me that I would enjoy college. They told me I would find my people, people just like me that were cool with being uncool and didn’t mind if all I wanted to talk about was the news or science facts or cats. I didn’t believe them. Middle school and high school had been so awful that I didn’t believe that any form of school could be okay, much less actually enjoyed. I wish I had listened to them. I went into my freshman year cautious, guarded, and terribly shy. I wanted to make new friends because I was lonely, but I was so scared being bullied or hated that I really struggled with actually connecting with people. Four years later and I could become BFF’s with just about anyone. I re-learned that the world is full of good intentions, but not always good people, and that’s okay. Being kind and open will get you much further than being cautious.

I’ve never been good at math and science, or at least not as good at that as I am at writing. My parents always encouraged me to follow my passion, but I was dead set on having a career that would allow me to make enough money to support a family. I chose science as a freshman because I saw the potential for a safety net – I could go to school and do just okay and still end up making enough money to be considered successful. Three semesters into my science courses and I was calling my dad, in tears, on a monthly basis because I hated my classes so much. The one thing I learned from this? Do something you’re good at for a career, and save the stuff that makes you happy for your weekends. Science fills me with wonder and excitement, but taking science classes made me want to pull my hair out. I just flat out wasn’t good at them, so I didn’t enjoy them. It made science feel like a chore rather than an ambition. You might disagree with me here, but my advice is to never let the thing that brings you joy become your day job, because then it feels like a chore.

Walking into college, I decided that I wasn’t here to have fun, I was here to make a career for myself. I was so driven. I wanted to work in a lab and have internships with the CDC and go places. Only in my junior year did I actually stop myself and say “hold up, I have the rest of my life to work, but if I go out with friends or wake up early to watch the sunrise instead of applying for a second job I’m going to have so much more fun”. Junior year I changed my mindset, added a minor that made me happy, stopped freaking out about adulthood, got an internship in something that wasn’t science, decided on going to law school instead of getting my Ph. D. (still might happen one day, though), and started living. Wow. Not only did my quality of life improve, my grades did too.

Now that my undergrad life is coming to a close I’m beginning to realize how much I have truly loved this chapter in my life. I’m glad I embraced it, even though it took a few semesters. As I head off into law school I am reminded of how lucky I am that I have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

Go Dawgs!

The Arbitrary Nature of Success

College students strive for success. Sometimes that means not failing that hard science class. Other times it means maintaining a 4.0 over four years. Sometimes it just means graduating. Success is a word that means you’re good at something, but most of the time when a friend thinking about their future says they want to be successful they mean they want to make a lot of money, have a nice house, drive a fancy car, and go on expensive trips.

Success looks a certain way. If you close your eyes and think of the word success you might picture someone in a suit, a celebrity, or a world leader. Maybe you think of a business man like Elon Musk or maybe you picture a public figure like Emma Watson. Whoever you choose, you almost certainly think of who they are now rather than what it took to get them there.

Forbes named Kylie Jenner as one of the world’s richest self-made women. The controversy surrounding this includes the reason behind her riches: her family’s wealth. Having already famous parents and siblings, or even just a handful of good connections, give you a leg up in reaching “success.” We don’t start from the same place. While we do all have the same amount of time each day, where we come from, where we start, and where we plan on going forces us to utilize those same twenty four hours very differently. The most motivated person might have to work two jobs to pay off their student debt and not have the time to follow their dreams. Another motivated person might have the money to spend their free time pursuing their education and working towards their dream job. All in all, the money can make the success story but the success story doesn’t always make the money.

A successful person is often seen as a busy person. They’re the ones with the busy schedules, the color coded planners, the phones constantly buzzing with updates. The successful ones eat, sleep, and breathe accomplishing mountains of work. In college, this can mean that you schedule your days jam packed with activities and meetings. You may tell your friends your schedule and find pleasure in the shock on their faces. It may feel like you’re winning an invisible game. But truth be told, the busiest people aren’t always the most successful. Spreading yourself thin leads to lots in involvement but little participation. If you have twenty organizations all demanding your attention you never put your heart and soul into what you’re doing. You may be known for lots of things, but if you’re asked in depth about your experiences in one of the organizations you’re a part of, what answer will you give?

If what you’re doing with your free time is only to boost your resume and not boost your quality of life, that’s not true success.  True success is getting what you want out of your life. To all the freshmen I mentor: true success looks like you.

Success is a series of small wins.

Success is a mountain of small accomplishments that felt meaningless at the time. Think back to graduating high school. It took a long time to get from A to B, but you did it. You took your classes, did the math, survived the dreaded beep test in gym, and had some fun along the way. But before high school you had middle school and before that you had elementary school and before that you had preschool and before that you had to learn to talk and walk. All the little things we do each day, like making goals for ourselves and eating breakfast, can amount to something monumental if we want them to.

Right now, freshman year is a stepping stone. You’re adjusting to college and trying to figure your life out. Some of you probably feel a little lost. College often feels like two steps forward and one step back. It’s slow going. In the end, even if you don’t think you’re going to get to where you’re going, you’re going to get to where you need to be. The universe has a funny way of making that happen.

One of the silliest, yet most life changing things that I read freshman year was a tumblr post about a dog begging for a chocolate chip cookie. It goes along these lines: imagine you are enjoying a chocolate chip cookie while at home with your dog. He’s going to whine and pout and whimper trying to get that cookie. You wish you could give it to him to make him happy, but you know that if you do you could end up hurting him. There’s no way to make him understand that what he wants is bad for him. That’s like your connection to the universe. Whatever higher power is out there knows what’s best for you. You can want that metaphorical chocolate chip cookie more than anything else in the world, but if it’s going to hurt you then sometimes the universe will step in and protect you. You’ll never know why, and you’ll be just like that dog whimpering and hurt because you worked hard for something you didn’t get. And that’s okay. That’s life. That’s success. Successful people have to fail in order to succeed because nothing ever really works on the first go around. That’s freshman year for most people. It’s a trial run for college, and college is a trial run for adulthood. Even if the whole way is two steps forward and one step back, you’ll still get to the finish line if you just keep going.

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For more of my thoughts on success during college, check out an old blog post I wrote by clicking here.