10 Things I Learned in College (First Year Edition)

Back in the heat of an August weekday, I sat down with my trusty new Macbook Pro and hammered out a “10 Things I Learned in College (First Week Edition” blogpost on La Bella: A Memoir. Here’s a refresher of those preliminary observations I made nearly eight months ago:

Smoking is still a habit; Online profiles do not tell all; Take classes that interest you; Be aggressive; Help a guy out (in the laundry room); Be open to conversation; Sit front row; Listen to your inner geek; Superb education is superior; Be thankful for Target toilet paper

And now, as I sit uploading my Journalism final project and prepare an oral Spanish exam, I have come up with another ‘10 Things’ –– but this time, I am much more humbled by my two semesters worth of experience. This time, I’ll shed a little more light on the changes, on the experiences, and on the transformation I’ve undergone since that initial post.

And, while I still have your attention now, thank you for following my journey, thus far.  I promise: it’s only going to get better from here on out.

1. Take time for yourself.  

I didn’t do this enough, and I paid for it big time yesterday afternoon.  I notoriously “do too much” –– I guess it’s one of those bad habits I haven’t trained myself to break away from.  I read, I run, I go to class, I stare at screens, I write articles, I write emails, I call my mom, I call my sources, I fold my laundry, I wash my dishes … I do a lot.  And when I don’t take time to slow down, to breathe, or to meditate, I absolutely lose it.  Tears, headache, stress, fatigue –– you know, burned out.  That’s why I seriously hope I’ll follow my own advice next semester.  To remember that I AM HUMAN, and I deserve a breather, every now and then.  Some leisure reading, some quiet meditation.  Some time for myself.  I’ve earned that right, right?

2. Do what’s best for you.  

This semester, I’ve learned to follow the voice inside my head, regardless of the consequences.  I’ve always been a perfectionist, a pleaser.  I never like to let anyone down.  But in January when I signed on for too much –– and when people started to demand too much of what I didn’t want to do –– I struggled to keep true to myself, yet fulfill my obligations.  It got to the point where I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, for fear that I would disappoint those around me, those suffocating me in assignments and deadlines.  And that’s when I read a beautiful blog post that made me rethink my priorities:  This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often.  If you don’t like something, change it.  If you don’t like your job, quit. … Start doing things you love.  Simple words, right?  They rang like a bell in my ears, reverberating in my head of what ifs and excuses for my own happiness.  DONE, I declared.  No more will I be a slave to my own misguided choices.  And you know what?  The people who you were worried about, they’ll understand.  If they don’t, they’ll get over it eventually.  They always do.

3. Sometimes, back off.  

Remember when I said you should be aggressive in college, to pounce on the myriad choices and opportunities that surround you? I still mean that.  But now I’m here to add another element to that advice: sometimes, you need to –– you must –– back off.  Maybe not for your own sake, but for the sake of others.  It was inevitable, I was going to make some enemies here in college.  That’s just the nature of being in a cut-throat major and wanting to “do it all.”  And I’ve realized since making these not-so-warm-and-fuzzy relationships that it’s sometimes best if I step back to avoid conflict.  I am not a conflict-driven person (and I don’t know how I could have thought otherwise).  That’s one of the reasons I’ve transitioned from reporter to strategic communications.  I do not search for or invent conflict.  Therefore, I’ve taken an alternate (my mother says the higher) road this past spring and purposefully avoided a potentially damaging situation –– changing my plans, slightly, but overall for the better.  Sometimes, I’ve found, life demands that you be the bigger person.  Always think about how your actions affect other people.  It’ll save you remorse in the long run.

4. Dishes really are the worst.  

Okay, here I shall rant briefly about how much I hate washing my dishes.  Yes, I would much rather be washing my dishes than half-hazardly throwing away paper plates and adding more to my human wastefulness.  But CMON, I so took for granted my suburban dishwasher.  Every other day, I have to wash the same bowls, the same spoons, and the same coffee mugs.  It’s like happening upon a pack of old friends and being forced to make continued awkward conversation (high school reunion, anyone?).  Seriously, if you have a dishwasher at home, USE IT.  Don’t let us college kids suffer at hand-washing our blue plastic tupperware and you just sitting there being lazy.

5. Be open to surprises.  

I thought I had everything figured out at the beginning of fall semester.  I was terribly wrong.  You see, I didn’t know that such a thing called the Global Leadership Center (of which I am now a member) even existed last winter, and now I’m going to be graduate with a certificate and (hopefully!) travel abroad to share my ideas with an international client.  I didn’t even know what the inside of National Geographic Headquarters looked like, and now I’ve been inside AND had my picture taken with a giant dinosaur that’s currently on its way to Milan.  I didn’t even know I needed an internship to graduate, and now I’ll be attending the Washington Media Institute next spring for an internship full of surprises.  The element of surprise can be daunting and a little overwhelming (especially for me, as an intense planner of all things needing to be planned).  But, if this year has taught me anything, it’s to work hard, play hard, and keep that email inbox open –– you never know what, or who, you might find.

6. Ask, ask, ask.  

I can’t stress this enough.  Questions are the only reason I got so many profitable and remarkable answers this past year.  I never would have gone to Washington D.C. if I hadn’t asked to take a peek inside NatGeo.  I never would have started my own organization on campus if I hadn’t asked how to start one.  I never would have gotten to speak to a public relations guru, or one of the top multimedia editors at the New York Times, if I hadn’t of had the courage to raise my voice.  In a field that absolutely requires you to ask questions, I’ve challenged myself to offer queries at every event I attend.  Because I’ll never know the answer –– even if it’s a no –– unless I ask the question, first.  This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give, and I hope you follow through.  Be the person who raises her hand in class.  Be the Hermione Granger among your peers.  I know I wouldn’t want to be any other way.

7. Accept the no’s.  

This brings me to my next point: accept the rejects.  It may seem like I’ve had a bulletproof first year of college, huh?  Wrong.  Shocking to some (and my own ego, at first), I’ve had several rejections this year alone.  That’s what you get when you sign up for every organization that will take an updated resumé and an (over)enthusiastic cover letter.  People are going to tell you ‘no.’  And when I received my first big rejection in the fall, I was depressed for days.  After all the hard work I had put into my application, just to be dismissed with the send of an email, I was crushed.  Gone were the days when I felt invincible –– now, I was a doomed failure.  And you know what kept me going?  Life.  Life kept whirring at a dizzying speed, even as I sulked in my bedroom.  Life challenged me, pressed me, to keep moving forward.  To keep applying for internships, for programs, that better fit my needs.  And you know what?  I decided to pursue a different path from the one I was imagining in my head –– the path of unexpected surprises.  The one that I embrace on a daily basis.  The one I am traveling on today.

8. Accept your path will change.  

WOW, what a perfect transition (I’m getting better at those, too).  This piece of advice, if not for you, is an important reminder for me.  Your life path will change.  It is inevitable.  There will be some event –– an accident, a mistake, a mishap, an interview, an encounter –– that will cause your world to flip.  And you will need to embrace that alteration if you want to have the best life possible.  Holding on to a past that’s no longer relevant or existent is unhealthy, if impossible in the simplest sense.  I tried to fix my sights on one truth, one destination, one goal.  But when that dream didn’t seem to align with my lifestyle choices, I felt abandoned by my own reasoning.  Here is where I figured out that life is fluid, like a river, and you must be willing to travel a different course, if that’s what it demands of you.  That doesn’t mean you give a different path less effort –– your river is leading you to your destiny.  The sooner you realize and accept that fact, your soul will soon thank you.

9. Go outside.  

Whenever I felt cramped, stressed, and otherwise exhausted by my daily operations, I would escape outside.  There is some mysterious quality of fresh air, of a pale blue sky, that solves all problems (at least all of mine, that is).  There is an especially magical trail that sits just about a half-mile from the center of campus that I flock to when I’m having a rough week.  When I’m running in the direction of the Appalachian mountains in the distance, I feel as if I’ve escaped into a different world from the red-bricked town of Athens.  I’m flying –– literally soaring –– along a stretch of green grass, of churning river waters, of endless horizon.  And that hour of exposure instantly evaporates all of my ills.  I encourage anyone to combat their woes of life with some soaking up of the glorious sun.

10. Be kind.  

Cheesy end to this insightful blogpost, I know.  But really, it’s these two simple word –– be kind –– that have made such an extraordinary difference in my first year of college.  Yes, there are people who could care less for manners, for chivalry, for decency (especially on fest weekends).  But I find that my day is instantly made simpler when a fellow peer opens the door, helps me with my homework, or acknowledges me with a smile.  There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you are accepted and loved for who you are by those around you.  It’s self-satisfaction –– I am a human being worthy of kindness and attention, even in all of my faults.  And I make it a point to be kind to those around me.  I’ve made so many unexpected acquaintances and friends in classes, just from simply smiling or sparking that first conversation.  Kindness radiates when you let it, so let it.

This post also appears on labellamemoir.tumblr.com