10 Things I Learned In College (Final Edition)

I’m sitting in Donkey Coffee on my third-to-final Friday morning in Athens, as my undergraduate education wraps up in a little less than two weeks.

A lot’s changed since my first wide-eyed week in this picturesque college town, when I was a lot more fear-driven, a lot more ambition-motivated, and a whole lot less sure of where I was going.

It took: two handicapped semesters, one year of journalism, one year of indecision, two summers of acorn-opening growth, three ‘wrong’ internships, and one certificate-too-many to come to this moment.

I’ve learned more about my body and my mind than I could have ever thought possible at the close of my first year.

So, here we go. Here’s the last ’10 things’ list of my undergrad career. Enjoy, -bnb

1. Seek gratitude in everything

Through yoga and mindful meditation, I’ve embraced the power of gratitude on a hollow, empty heart. I began this college journey very spiteful, with a brick-of-a-chip on my shoulder from all the things that preceeded this academic saga.

It was difficult, almost unbearable, to be ‘thankful’ for where and who I’d been. How could I possibly see the gratitude when so many bad thoughts still haunted my waking dreams? When these legs went out from under me, it made it 10 times worse to be ‘grateful’ for the pain, the loss of mobility, and the uncertain recovery-road ahead of me.

My four-year dedicated yogi practice has allowed me to wake up every morning, see the sunshine (or the dreary clouds of snow) and send a grateful intention forward for the day — no matter the drama that entertained me the night before.

Being grateful for friends and friends’ accomplishments has been a big feat for my ego — it wasn’t always easy to be genuinely happy for others, being so unhappy and unsatisfied with my own self.

It starts from within. It starts with appreciating the small gains amid the seemingly gargantuan losses. It starts with you — you do have the power of gratitude within your very soul.

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A pretty awesome yoga shot by the amazing Sarah Holm

2. Have choices

When I lost my only outlet of physical stress relief, I panicked. When I lost my plan with a purpose, I balked.

I was a black-or-white, this-or-that kind of girl on the cusp of year 19. I was going to school for journalism, nothing else. I was going to succeed in all things, no failing here.

But things didn’t go as planned, as per the ‘normal’ route of life. When I didn’t have a ‘Plan B’ in my back pocket, I was a deer in headlights, my anxiety creeping precipitously up from the wells I thought were buried deep.

Having choices isn’t a sign of weakness: it’s a sign of preparedness, an admission of acknowledgement that life ebbs-and-flows in complicated curves.

I have a relative plan for the summer, the next year, and the next leap of graduate school — but I’m not tied down, yet! One of this year’s resolutions is to “not choose too soon,” and I’ve kept that promise to myself, so far.

I know now I have choices — that it is healthy to have choices. I know there are different avenues for applying my degree, my passions, and my mind’s work.

I’m not boxed in anymore. I’m free to choose.

3. Know your gal pals

One of my most-vivid memories from freshman year, aside from all the caffeine jitters, was two girls talking smack behind my back (I overheard them through my dorm door, how rude!).

I was constantly competing in journalism for attention, put time-and-time again in positions of uncomfortable ego-wars. I can have quite a competitive drive, when I let it over-take me — but I realized, after a few more burns, I relish the moments when I can just be myself, when I don’t have to prove my own worth.

But first, I had to find my tribe.

In the last year, the stars aligned. I found geography, I found women’s and gender studies, I found an awesome summer crew, I reconnected with a few far-flung sisters, and I made/maintained some incredible gal-pals to carry me through these last two semesters.

No competing, no angry internship wars, no messy apologies necessary. I have friends who I know love me unconditionally — even if I have a rough week, or a stormy day.

And I hope they know, I love them unconditionally, too.

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Smiling big at the Student Expo

4. Do your best to do the most

You can do anything, but not everything.

I didn’t learn this soon enough. Being told as an overachieving child that I could do anything, I mistook that as an obligation to do everything. I burned out pretty quickly in college with this mindset.

There’s still something to be said for trying your best, pulling together all of your resources and making the most impact that you can. It can mean some late nights, some nights in, or nights where all you need is sleep.

Doing your best to do the most doesn’t mean doing it all, or nothing at all. I’ve learned that it means we can stretch ourselves to achieve what once seemed impossible — just not all that is possible.

See the difference? It’s slight, but severe.

It means accepting when something is your best but ‘not enough.’ It means pacing yourself and going at your speed — whatever that means in this hour of the day. It means going for what you can, but remembering who you are without all that you desire.

It’s a reminder that we are only (and all) human. So give yourself a break!

5. Loss is a reminder to feel and live presently

When I started college, I had two more grandparents, a more-or-less in-tact heart of feelings, and a lot more calcium in my bones.

Things are going to look a lot different at this year’s graduation ceremony than they did four years ago. Thus is the way of life.

Though I still wish I could have my grandparents back, each and every day, their loss has taught me to appreciate the people in my life today. What we can’t get back, we can make and appreciate going forward. Things could have really been a whole lot worse.

Today. This hour, this moment. This. This is all I have. 

Again, through my dedicated yoga practice, I wholeheartedly believe in the power of the breath — the focus on the NOW. Losing isn’t only about loss — it’s also a gain for those who are here, today.

6. Listen to your body

I learned this little adage over, and over, again.

Time showed me that listening to my body — and not just my seemingly limitless willpower — is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve gathered from four years ‘on my own.’

Our bodies are temples. Our bodies are forests. Our bodies are smarthouses. Our bodies are vessels, holding us through the waves of life.

I have never felt all of the intricate movements of my body so fully as I did when I spent 11 weeks in a wheelchair. Now I know: Every muscle counts!

Thanks to the help of some fabulous yoga teachers and physical therapy instructors, I’m back on my feet. I now take each movement with wonder, practically bouncing my feet off the pavement in joyous ecstasy.

It’s amazing, this body. What can you do when you listen to yours?

7. Breathe. Just breathe…

…and let go that which does not serve you.

As an Aquarius air-sign, my automatic on overdrive looks a lot like a tornado: running around from one place, one city, one continent to the next. Scarcely keeping with one thought, burning through the next. Getting swept away in a blustery panic like a gusty day.

Yoga and mediation, again, has taught me the power of the breath. Swimming has coached me in how best to breathe, when all that’s left around me is unbreathable water.

Holding on, and letting go. That’s what the practice of breathing can teach you, if you let it.

We inhale an average of 23,040 times a day — that’s over 23,000 times we can potentially ‘hold on’ to pain, to anger, to resentment, to fear, and to the unknown. We also have the opportunity to exhale greed, lack, suffering, and angst 23,040 times every day.

Amazing! What if we thought of every exhale as an act of letting go?

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Giving a talk on my research, photo by the lovely Katie Gardner

 

8. Don’t be afraid to be confident

As soon as I began to say with confidence “I know what I’m doing next!” people stopped doubting me.

There’s scarcely nothing as dreaded to a senior pending graduation than the question, “So, what are you going to do next?”

Not so long ago, I really had no clue what I was going to do with my professional life. It was nerve-wracking to admit in my own head, worse when I had to speak the words “I don’t know” to someone else out loud.

In truth: No one knows what the future holds. Beats me why we’re so hellbent on asking the question “What’s next?” anyway.

At this point, I’m grasping what looks appealing and going for it. I have a plan, a general direction, and I’m sharing that profession with confidence.

Does it mean my future isn’t going to change? No way. But sometimes saying it that way — with confidence — makes the haters go away.

Own you. Do you. Don’t let anyone else attempt to shame you otherwise!

9. Creativity is a beautiful thing

Before I started college, I was an academic machine.

I cranked out term papers, completed assignments, and packed my schedule like a robot without an off-switch. I tried to cram everything I loved and valued into one profession, leaving myself nothing at the end of the day ‘for me.’

Little by little, I let the strings loosen. I dropped photography from my triple-threat journalism to a hobby and a creative pursuit. I added poetry. I began my blog. I started collecting art that moved me, sometimes putting it on my body.

Soon, I began to see the world, not just as a place of climate-change destruction, but as a prism of light and love and possibility. Pursuing creativity intently opened up my senses, my emotions, and gave me a new lease on life.

10. It all connects

Were you surprised that this was my last ‘discovery’ point? (It’s my website theme, after all.)

I tried and tried for so many years to ‘pick just one’ train of thought, one region of study (one ring to rule them all?).

Turns out, this girl’s got a geographer’s heart — and brain.

I see the world in its wholeness. The lines of countries blurred by boundaries of wilderness and wildness. Humans as just one species. Environment as every scene. Whether it’s environmental history, feminist geography, the politics of human rights — it all connects.

And I couldn’t see it any other way.

 

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I’ve always been a geographer. Thanks for the throwback, Dad. 

 

One Comment

  1. Debi & Don Durbin says:

    Bethany,

    You have grown so much in the last 4 years to a wonderful/caring woman. You have learned that life is a journey and nobody knows what the future has for us but you are willing to see it thru with passion and drive. I am so proud of you and have enjoyed watching/reading as you become the woman you are today. Your choices are endless.

    HUGS!! Debi

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