Next week, my little sister starts her senior year of college. I love this season of life because it’s rife with all the big life lessons, squished into four short years. In hindsight, they really did teach me all I needed to know about being an adult; I just didn’t know it then.
When you’re in the middle of the blessed college years, you know it’s awesome, but you also know it’s bewildering. And you know that all the adults 25 and over wish they could be in your shoes but you’re sitting there in pre-adult world wishing you could just be on their side of things, having it all figured out.
So, in an effort to assuage my sister’s worries, here are a few things I wish someone would have told me as I started my senior year of college:
Create a Board of Directors.
“What are your plans after college?” will become the soundtrack to your life. Even if you know what you want to do after college it’s not like you’re living it yet, so it still seems so far off and out of reach. That’s normal. In fact, it’s a part of every life stage. After you are in grad school you’ll get “where are you applying?” And then “Who are you dating? Are you talking marriage?” And then shortly thereafter “When will you start having kids?” It’s endless! Having been on the receiving end of all of those questions, here is my advice: come up with a pat answer that you give everyone- everyone except your board of directors. Your board of directors should be a few people from different areas of your life that know you well. Pick one from camp, a favorite faculty member, a few friends, a family member or two. They are people who love you, have your best interest in mind, and who know the whole context of your story. Those are the people who can ask you those questions and perhaps even offer advice, after they’ve listened to your response. As for everyone else, serve them with a pat answer. Create a basic answer that you’ll say with a confident smile, knowing that even if you haven’t the slightest idea of where you’ll live or how you’ll scrounge up money to put food on your plate, they don’t need to know that. In fact, you should create a dub step song with the chorus being the question and your response. Bewilder the heck out of the questioner, staving off any more like questions. You’ll have a great story, too.
I think it’s ingrained in our American-bred, goal-setting, get-er-done culture to feel the need to ask those aforementioned questions. Sometimes we ask out of genuine, sincere interest. But other times we ask because we are feeling insecure and confused so we need to compare our stack to yours. And then other times we ask because we’re impatient and uncomfortable so we want to know what’s next- for ourselves and for you. All of those reasons are natural, but they aren’t all healthy. I think it’s important to note, as you sing your new showtune, that beneath all of that is a need to be present. Shirk the natural inclination to ask those questions and instead ask how your friend’s Senior Seminar class is going. Inquire about their family, the coffee they had this morning, and which professor they’re enjoying the most. Keep it present tense as much as possible. That present mind will keep you whimsical. It will inspire you to go to the beach at 10 p.m. on a Friday night like you did freshman year. It will allow you to enjoy the amazing people living in the room next door instead of getting irritated by their odd schedule. It’ll cause you to throw a killer Halloween party for the entire university, create a YouTube video of 25 Christmas songs, and it’ll forge and deepen friendships with people who will hold your hand in a hospital room ten years from now. Yes, there is time to sit down and crunch numbers and schedule GRE tests, and dream about where you will live and how you will commute. Schedule that time at Classic Coffee, then shut your laptop and go for a walk down Glendora Avenue and soak up the sun.
Don’t wear yoga pants on the airplane.
Perhaps this is unnecessary because you are more mature than I was at your age, but given the yoga-pants world we live in, it bears stating overtly. While I believe in being present and enjoying what you have in front of you, you are also in transition. A part of that transition is understanding the community of people in the next life stage. To be clear, they don’t all look the same. But as you scan the crowd, you’ll note the ones who look like they know where they’re headed and the ones who don’t. It’s totally fine to be in the latter group, but I think it’s important to aim for the first, even if takes awhile to get there. On a very practical, arguably superficial note, wear real clothes when you fly home for Thanksgiving. You just never know who you’ll sit next to in the Southwest terminal in Oakland. If it’s someone in the field you’re studying, you don’t want to be wearing yoga pants and an old sweatshirt. You want what you wear to match the four years of hard work and your smarty-pants brain. I’m not saying you need to wear pumps and slacks and pearls on your 9 p.m. flight; just no yoga pants.
These are the days that must happen.
I think the hardest part about senior year is that it feels like you have to figure out a lifetime of Big Important Plans while you’re still in school. Let me emphasize that last part. You’re still in school! You have a job to do and you’re doing it already! Score! I’m going to again bring you back to Walt Whitman’s words. These days must happen. These days where you show up to class and write papers and study for midterms. Those days are finite. Don’t shortchange your future by looking for an escape route in the present. When the days where you have to figure out which grad school to go to and where to live and how to pay for that grad school finally arrive, you will figure out what to do then. Don’t rush to those decisions. Your grad-school self needs your college-senior-self to be all in right now. You’re still gaining the wisdom and know-how to make the big decisions when it’s time.
And really, to sum it all up, I want you to know that it’s okay to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. In fact, that seems to be a general theme in life. I’ve read myriads of books and blogs about parenting, I soak up seminars and ask for advice from wise parents, but at the end of the day, it’s up to me. And the real truth is that all day, every day, I’m just making game-time decisions. Us adults, the ones with mortgages and cars and jobs and 401ks are really just figuring it out as we go, just a few steps ahead of you. We still need help from our parents and siblings, and we still call our friends and over-indulge on ice cream when we’ve had a bad day. It’s life’s way of keeping you humble, keeping you available to help and to be helped.
You have another chapter in the college section of your life story, but it’s not the end. You have a life time of learning and growing ahead of you. In the really scary moments, remember that this year is a blip on the radar. And then remember that this is a season to be savored, so close your laptop, grab your roomates, and head outdoors.
Be brave. Keep going when you fail. The world is waiting for you.