Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Not-Brutal Realities

Warning: old lady soapbox post.

I'm friends with a bunch of my former students on Facebook. This has vastly improved my view about teaching. Before social media, teachers didn't always get to see what happened after our charges left the nest. Now it's easy to keep in touch and watch my former students grow into full-fledged adults.

Sometimes this means my feed has a lot of pictures of sorority squatting and questionable costume choices. But you know? Nobody is my responsibility once they graduate out... so God bless 'em (and that's why we have the 'I don't want to see this' button.) Be young. Have at it.

Yesterday, a listicle called 17 Brutal Realities of Being a College Student in 2014 started making the rounds among my former AP kids, each now at different universities.  So I clicked on it to read it. As one does. The producer (Thoughtcatalog uses this label rather than writer, as best I can tell) of this article has--I'm sure--a different take on college than 30-something awkward me.

I thought I'd offer my own thoughts:


1. College doesn't have to be the best time of your life. If you're beating yourself up because it isn't, know this: no one time in your life has to be the best time of your life just because it was for someone else. You know that quote that a billion people have posted on Pinterest? The one that says, What messes us up is the picture in our head of how it's supposed to be? That. And it will be true about everything you do for the rest of your ever. Love. Marriage. Babies. Work. You can only be you and that means you can only have your highs and lows. If college sucks, guess what? Something else will be better.

My amazing college. My time there was not the best time of my life.

2. There are a lot of distractions. But you have the power to remove all of them. If you really want something bad enough--a grade, an education, a career, a relationship--you will find a way to turn off the noise. If you can't find a way to do that, you're probably not ready or didn't really mean that much to you. What I mean is this: Tumblr isn't going to keep you from finishing papers or graduating unless you let it.

3. Nobody has any idea what they are doing. The secret is out. We're all faking it. This doesn't stop after college. Try to be the person now that you want to be later, and the "doing" part of your day will start to make sense. Set a goal. Focus yourself. Work hard. Show other people you care about them. That's the best anyone can do.

4. Living frugally will give you perspective. Even if that perspective is about not wanting to eat poorly and share space with other humans, it will be valuable. Sometimes the lesson you learn is about what you don't want.

5. As difficult as this job market is, having a college degree gives you access to so much more than if you don't have one. Yes, it's hard to get a job. Yes, it sucks. But it won't always suck. You want to come out on the other side of this recession with an education. It will always be harder to find work if you don't have a college degree. And guess what? If you earn a degree, nobody can ever take that away. The years will pass either way and you can either learn or not. But they will damn sure pass. Your degree might be in something you don't choose to pursue, eventually. But having it is like leveling up in life.

6. Financial aid is there for those who want it. It can be a better deal to invest in yourself for the short term so you can reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

7. If you don't like how much you're complaining, stop. Chances are that other people don't enjoy the negativity, either, especially if you're not taking action to change the things you don't like. But this doesn't mean that college won't come with challenges. You are meant to struggle. Even things like figuring out how to wake yourself up early and budget your time and study and decide just how much fun you're going to have--those are all things you're supposed to learn in college. You don't want anyone telling you what to do. You want to find your own rhythms. Your own values. So give yourself a break. You're learning how to be Future You.

8. College is a good opportunity to learn the difference between "free resources on the internet" and what's inside books. There is one. If you can Google something easily, so can the rest of the world. Learning about a topic--really learning--requires more than a few click-throughs. Sometimes it means paying for resources. Sometimes it means reading boring stuff. But I promise you the people who can make themselves read boring things come out ahead of those who look for the easy out. And often that stuff in books will change who you are as a person--in a good way. Because it's harder to get your words into a book than to put them on the internet. And not all information is equal. Figuring that out makes you discerning. That will be important, later.

9. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince had this one right. Parents just don't understand. But your parents' parents didn't understand them, either.  Nor did your grandparents' parents. Circle of life. And cell phones, internet, anything you want that costs money--if you work hard and earn, it's not off limits to you. Part of what you learn in college is how to sacrifice to get the things that you need and want.

10. Hopefully eating all that Ramen teaches you that you want more out of life than just Ramen.

11. The reason people talk so much about traveling abroad in college is that it only gets harder to do once you're older. You'll have a job. Maybe a family. Maybe a mortgage. It just gets more complicated. But this also doesn't mean you have to go when you're in school. Do what works for you. Stop letting yourself feel obligated by what other people tell you. Maybe it doesn't work for you to travel in college. You'll find a way to do it later if it's something you really want. It will require more sacrifice, that's all.

12. Unpaid internships: Yep. We're still doing that. Sometimes you have to show people that you're worth hiring before they will pay you to do a task. Sometimes you have to work really hard at something only because you know it will get you to another level. And sometimes you have to do things you don't like and nobody will pay you for them. Adulthood.

13. You have to create the space you want to live in. This is true for your dorm room, your house, and your head.

14. Being a professor is not a cushy job. Jobs in education can be hard work for little recognition. But the world will always need teachers. If you have a passion for something and if you can make sacrifices so that others can learn, you should do it. Opportunities present themselves to people who work hard and who are kind. Always.

15. The world is full of bad food. As an adult, it's part of your job to figure out if you want to eat it and maybe not be so healthy, or if you don't want to eat it and maybe live a little longer. Choices are amazing. But they always have consequences.

16. College--like all school--teaches you how to learn. You will not directly apply most things you learn in school in your real life. You just won't. If someone told you that you were going to use everything you ever learned in school, that was a lie. But if you want to be successful--more successful than not--you have to be good at learning. And you have to keep doing it. So you might not have someone tell you to research and write an essay. But you will--at some point--have an opportunity to present something that you care about to others. And being able to support your opinion intelligently? And being able to write persuasively? Those are gold in Adultland.

17. Nostalgia is real. You will always remember things that were positive and miss those moments. But after college there will be a lot of things you're glad to let go. You don't have to be or feel anything right now just because you're in school. Just like how you don't have to be or feel anything anyone else says for the rest of your life. Think about what matters to you. Put your time into that. Anything that doesn't bring you joy? Stop giving it your attention. All you can do is make the best decisions you can make for this moment. And yes, what you want will change. But you don't have to feel bad about it.