I think I’d be correct to assume that most people look back on college with fond memories. More and more people go to college these days, and why wouldn’t we? It has the potential, after all, to be the most glorious era of your life: It’s your first stab at being an adult, without the pressure of, y’know, actually acting like one. Well—in theory. Sure, college will demand hard work and it’ll stretch you mentally, but it’s definitely also about having fun. And that’s okay, it’s good, it’s part of the experience. You want to emerge from it and be able to say ‘I loved college!’—with a degree in hand, of course.
But what do you do when, for unforeseeable circumstances, the fun gets sucked away? What if you have to work a full-time job to support yourself through your full-time studies? What if you lose a loved one, or suffer an illness, or experience something that brings your life to a standstill while everyone else around you is frolicking around at frat parties?
For most students, there will be times during college life when shit gets real. I, for example, kinda sorta encountered a few things that weren’t on the standard student curriculum—more than just the expected stresses of finals and essays and horrendous drunken decisions—and consequently look back on my final year of university with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. For me, my cushy student lifestyle of partying and procrastinating juddered to a halt and I was catapulted into the ‘real world’ before making the careful and strategic entrance I’d planned. And the rumours are true, guys: the real world sucked. All work and no play made Amy a very, very dull girl.
But I’m not writing to you to share my sob story. No: I’ve got the letters after my name, I’m on the mend, and life is pretty hunky dory now. What I’m really here to do is share a few nuggets of wisdom, things I think are universally useful if you’re experiencing hurdles not only at university, but in the life you lead after you swing your mortarboard in the air and wave farewell to it all. I just want to give y’all a friendly reminder that, hey—life’s tough sometimes, and it sucks, but you’ll learn from it, and you should see those times as an opportunity to grow stronger up as a person.
College is so different for all of us, and whatever your student life taught you, there’s no doubt you’re aware it’s about a little more than the stuff you read, digest, and regurgitate for credits. You’re at that crucial coming-of-age point in your life, you’re seeking independence, and there will be points where you need to grow a thicker skin, keep calm, and carry on. So here are some things that, from my own experience, I’d like to share with the class—the lessons I wasn’t supposed to learn, but I’m so very glad I did.
1. Keep adapting.
‘Adapt and overcome.’ That’s a little life motto that my boyfriend has always sort of thrown around the place, but it took on more value when I was forced into a corner and had to adapt my way out of it (or be damned). If circumstances mean you’ve got to do things you’d rather avoid – welp, you gotta do what you gotta do. For me it meant waking up while it was still dark every day, working long hours, giving up my free time to catch up on schoolwork, and swallowing my pride to seek professional medical help even though I’d always been quite sure I could ‘manage’ just fine on my own. You have to make changes to your life sometimes, and you’ve just gotta suck ’em up and get on with it. That’s how you overcome obstacles – not by complaining so much that someone else dismantles them for you. Remember that life isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s all about accepting change, getting your head down and working to improve your way out.
2. Keep on being kind.
Being in a dark place really proves the value of kind words and actions. If you can see that one of your friends is going through a rough patch, for whatever reason, reach out and be there for them. Don’t bitch because they can’t frolic with the whole group like they used to. Don’t watch them struggle without intervening. Get in there and be the kind voice, the listening ear, the shoulder to cry on. Do it not because you’re going to gain anything from them, but make like Kant and do it because it’s your duty as a good friend and a moral person. This is something I know I’ll always live by from now on.
3. Keep feeling grateful.
I’d sincerely hope I’m not the only one who takes a moment every day to look around me and be grateful for what I have. Sometimes I find myself quite stunned at how fortunate I am: I have a job I like, a room in a house that I can pay for, money in the bank, a healthy body, a loving boyfriend. I think the reason I’m so grateful for these things is because I worked so hard for them. It’s easy to take things for granted if they’re being handed to you, but by gosh, if you’re fortunate enough not to have debts, or some help with your rent, or a good pack of friends around you, don’t ever forget how special those good things are.
4. Keep up appearances.
I’m not talking about living in yoga pants and wearing no make-up to your classes. I’m talking about maintaining a bright, positive disposition despite whatever hardship you’re going through. This is a vital life skill. Being polite to people and keeping your cool even if you’re seething with rage is important, nay essential, to getting through life. Show up on time. Make sure your hair is clean and your face is fresh when it matters. Wash your clothes, smell nice, wear good underwear. Wear a smile on your face wherever possible and don’t let others see the world is beating you down a little bit, because once others can see you’re defeated, you’ll be treated as such, and it’s all a vicious cycle from there.
5. Keep perspective.
Just because today isn’t easy doesn’t matter. You’re constantly working for a better tomorrow. Think about it: that’s the entire premise of college in the first place, so extend that view to your life as a whole. You might be struggling at this point in your life, but one day, you’ll get to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. So today is not that day? So what. Have a little perspective and remember that there are brighter days ahead. Keep calm, darling, and carry on.