Dear 18-year-old me, These are the 14 most important lessons I learned in college, things I wish I knew before I started, before I graduated from a tiny high school to attend a massive university, before I attended my first "real party," before I figured out balance, and before I found my tribe.
Culture shock imminent—take reasonable risks.
After being sheltered for 18 years under your parents' roof and rules, you will suddenly be flung into 24/7 freedom with seemingly no supervision. You will be surrounded by peers from different towns, cities, states, and countries in a new environment. Don't underestimate how dramatically your life will change. You might not know what to do with all the extra time at first. On the first night of move-in, you won't see a single sober person out on campus.
"Feeling overwhelmed the first few weeks of college is okay and normal. It’s important to take a breath, take time for yourself, and realize that many people are feeling the same way." - Alyssa
You will have the time of your life in college. There will be a lot of firsts and milestones. This newfound freedom is an opportunity to explore new ideas, perspectives, people, places, and cultures. Now's the chance to practice building life skills and taking risks in a relatively safe setting. Despite this, you are in a real world with real risks and consequences. Disappearing into the abyss of night life is tempting but ultimately over-glamorized. What you do when nobody’s watching matters—your body will remember the decisions you make.
Don't lose yourself to freedom—remember responsibility.
College is a transition towards increasing responsibility. In college, I learned that the weekend warrior, “work hard, play harder” mindset is inevitably derailing. Realize work is play. Unwind from a stressful week as a reward for hard work, not an escape from reality. Leisure is necessary, but don't avoid your responsibilities. Don't let breaks become procrastination. If you find yourself getting swept away by hectic surroundings or turbulent thoughts, don't be afraid to ask for help.
"Time management is important. Your ability to be independent will grow significantly by trying to figure out how to balance things such as work life, social life, and school. There is no one to really motivate you but yourself." - Alyssa
Balance experiencing and recording to tap into your creative potential.
In this tech era, the definition of "living life to the fullest" is shifting as we try to strike the balance between fully enjoying and capturing key moments. Your thoughts and feelings will never make it all into your journal or into your camera roll—these tools are merely extensions of our minds. Your job is to live as much of your time in the present moment as possible and soak in what it means to be alive. Chase what calls you, and whatever you're doing, be fully engrossed in it. Accept the richness of life that lives beyond the pixels. Some of your favorite moments will only live on in your memory, and that doesn't make them any less real. If you're able to encapsulate those peak moments, more power to you, but don't let the screen distract you from savoring life to the fullest.
Make the most of your time in the present.
You may find yourself with more flexibility in college. Re-ignite that dormant passion, let it become your obsession, and see how far it takes you. Now's the chance to raise awareness about food deserts, work with horses, get involved with TED talks, learn to dance, help plant a community garden, start a blog, train for a triathlon, join a lab, organize paint parties, or take advantage of other extra-curriculars your university has to offer. Revive those lifelong dreams, and let your inner child run wild.
You are powerful beyond belief. Be the change you seek.
As kids, we have a tendency to have egocentric expectations, and we can get pretty frustrated or shut down when the universe doesn't bend in our favor. This sense of entitlement or that we deserve special treatment is a product of living in a well-insulated bubble. At a large university, you learn quickly that the universe won’t treat you differently without action. You may find that you have to work harder for good grades. Things don’t just fall into your lap if you want them intensely. You gotta work towards manifesting your goals.
"You are responsible for your own success. In middle and high school it may have been easier to get help from outside sources such as parents, but in college, you really have to create your own success. What you do with your time is how you can succeed in your future. Use different resources given to you at universities such as career centers, writing centers, etc. It becomes harder to blame anyone but yourself for not completing an assignment on time. Professors are there to help you if you’re lost, but it’s really your job to approach them for the help you need." - Alyssa
Your understanding of causality and how the universe works will deepen.
Open your mind to the possibility of having an inaccurate or incomplete view of the world—this is the first step to growing beyond your present state. Put aside biases and ego and pursue truth above all else. Modify your theories and assimilate them with new information.
Learning the details may seem tedious at first, but it provides the foundation to appreciate the big picture even more. Eventually, what you’re studying will come naturally. What used to be a string of disjointed facts will gradually meld to form a grand picture of the human condition and the underlying structure of life and the universe. Take good notes (I'm talking infographics, drawings, connections to real world scenarios and applications), and your knowledge will last far beyond college and well into your career.
Don’t let disciplines box you in. See connections between the science of human nature, the way we perceive the world, our origins in the universe, and how little we actually know. Know this society is just like any other society at any other place or time—imperfect. Nobody has all the answers or really knows what they’re doing. There's a lot of work to be done, and the world needs your help.
Hone your inner voice and speak your truth.
In college, you will hear challenging ideas. I've heard philosophy and STEM professors claim that we can't trust our intuition. This mindset is a vestige of the age of reason and elitism, and in reality it is destructive advice that is poorly applied in everyday life. Don't let anyone disempower you with their thoughts, words, or rhetoric from the guise of authority. Nobody has it all figured out, even if they present their beliefs as facts.
You are bound to meet people with completely different perspectives. If you disagree with someone on a fundamental level, know that you have the full right to defend what you believe to be true. I hope you don't encounter professors who push their beliefs on others, and I hope you don't feel pressured to 'agree' with a professor or regurgitate their argument for the sake of grades, but it does happen. Ultimately, speak your mind, stand up for what's right, and stay true to your values.
Listen to your intuition and enforce your boundaries.
You will also meet a lot of new people with very different personalities, and you may encounter people who raise major red flags. Protect your energy and maintain strong boundaries against social pressures and toxic relationships. Take Abnormal Psychology as soon as possible and stay appraised on the techniques that narcissists and sociopaths use to manipulate. At a several-thousand person university, you're bound to run into some. Don't be deceived by their charisma. Don’t suppress your intuition or ignore body signals like an uneasy gut, heavy heart, or constricted lungs as a sign that something isn't right, even if your brain is like, "this seems fine."
Too many people stay in unhealthy relationships out of fear of being alone and left to address their unresolved issues. Be aware of fair energy exchange. Don't be afraid of saying no—being selfish is actually selfless. Focus on becoming the best version of yourself, don't settle, and you can be sure the best has yet to come. Your future self will thank you later. Either way, we often learn best from firsthand, personal experience. As your values solidify and as your confidence grows, you will find it easier to trust your intuition, and this will lead you closer to alignment. We possess more inner wisdom within than we realize, and sometimes it takes a full college experience to realize that.
"You are allowed to rid yourself of toxic people who hold you back. College is a time for meeting new people, growth, and change. If there are people in your life that may not specifically benefit you or exert a toxic energy on your mental health, it is okay to distance yourself. Do not feel guilty for doing what may be best for you." - Alyssa
Mental health and breaking the cycle
The pieces of your life puzzle are coming together. You will start to understand how your early life experiences shaped you into who you are, how you see yourself today, and why you made the choices you did. You may be left to face resurfacing pain or trauma as you realize your childhood is in the past now. Maybe certain experiences planted false ideas in your head when you were a kid, and now's your chance to rewrite that story.
At some point in adulthood, we realize we don't want or need to feed low-vibrational patterns or coping mechanisms like addiction, distraction, suppression, shifting blame, self-victimization, or making excuses. Yet sometimes we have to face the darkness head-on and sit with our negative emotions in order to understand them better, grow stronger from them, and build healthier lifestyle habits. Gradually, your rituals will shift towards healing, journaling, making art, dancing, working out, meditating, and living your purpose. Human capacity to conquer struggle is boundless. I promise you that nothing you set your mind to is impossible.
"Make room for yourself during all of what seems like chaos. While it may become overwhelming at times with the full work load and balancing other aspects of life, it is important to add in time for yourself no matter what. This could be something as simple as doing yoga or meditation before bed, journaling in the morning, reading, taking a walk, etc. Anything that can help quiet your mind for just 5 minutes can benefit." - Alyssa
Surroundings are key.
We do not live in a bubble, even though having a glass screen between us and the world may create that illusion. You are not immune to or separate from your surroundings. If your environment is not supporting your growth, change your scenery. This can range in energy required, from small (leaving the room, blocking a number, sticking your phone in a drawer) to medium (changing who you surround yourself with, switching roommates, dorms, or campuses) to huge (switching majors, making a lifestyle decision, or traveling). Don't be afraid of the uncertainty and willpower required to improve your circumstances. You'll be better off for it.
Your perception of reality is merely a reflection of your inner state.
When you get to college, you will initially hide behind the facade of not giving a damn, but the truth is, you care... a lot. You might walk past someone and think they're talking about you when they literally didn't even notice you. How you see yourself impacts how you think others see you. That's why it can be so hard to escape the talons of judgment: we're constantly judging ourselves and projecting this onto others and making increasingly convoluted bets on what they're thinking. Observe and allow thoughts like this to pass through you without holding onto them, because you are not your mind or your fleeting emotions.
When you explore your mind, you come to know what you're capable of, the first step towards acceptance, self-love, and awakening. Remember your essence. You are beautiful, regardless of what your insecurities would lead you to believe. Make sure to affirm yourself and practice gratitude frequently.
This isn't your final form. You will change—a lot.
When your boyfriend texts you, "Don't become something you're not," you'll disregard it and embrace novelty and adventure. You may think you know yourself now, but you don't really know yet. You won't realize the gravity of his advice until much later. It will turn out to be some of the most important advice you've ever received.
Every second, you are reinventing yourself into something greater than you can imagine right now. Throughout your life, you will have to grapple with others' perception of you and stay true to who you know you are. "Who are you?" is not a question many people are prepared to answer. Every journey is different. Your early twenties may be a turbulent time marked by much change, but it’s all in how you process, respond, reflect, and integrate these insights.
This may sound scary, but things you thought would never change—like your personality, desires, motivations, preferences, ideals, spirituality, and political beliefs—will shift. Your awareness is leading you closer towards alignment. Your friends and family might notice you evolving into a different person, and the people you hang out with may change as a result. Your perspective on what's cool vs. stupid will shift a lot. As your journey unfolds and you discover more of who you truly are, just remember to be authentically you, and don't resist growth. You may not even realize how much you've grown until you look behind at how far you've come.
Attracting your vibe tribe
Friends are waiting to be made in class, at parties, at clubs, in dorms, at campus events, at work, and even the most unlikely places. To meet people with similar interests, join clubs, attend seminars, get a campus job, or take fitness classes. The possibilities are endless. Your social world just dramatically increased, so use the law of attraction to your advantage and find your crew. This might be the best chance you get.
Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Make friends who love to talk about ideas more than people. Remember, you become like the 5 people you spend most time with. Friendships based on communication, truth, trust, respect, and understanding tend to last, while those based on convenience tend to fade. So make friends who hold you accountable to go to the gym, friends who are down for spontaneous adventures, friends who give their honest opinions when you fuck up, friends who share your passions and can talk for hours about them, friends that support you and stick by you when shit hits the fan. Your friend groups will naturally shift as you come to understand who you are. You will lose some friends and gain new ones, and that's perfectly okay.
As for family... it can be strange how the less often you see family, the more you value time with them. The relationships smooth over at the edges. There's less fighting and more smiles. Remember: even as friends and lovers come and go, family is a lifelong constant, a sacred bond. Sometimes it takes the whole edifice crumbling underneath your feet to realize your family is still there for you no matter what.
Struggle, triumph, and resilience
It's great to have a positive outlook, but continual optimism can be emotionally draining (and it's even a form of spiritual bypassing). Happiness comes from truth, not from masking the darkness but from acknowledging it. The better you understand it, the more equipped you are to conquer it. No matter what happens, through the highs and lows, you will be okay. You are strong and will overcome whatever challenges you inevitably face in this human condition. Even if it feels like the world is collapsing in on you, even if you experience massive failure, you will emerge stronger. It’s just like interval training—hardships are there to test our will, teach us a lesson, kick our ass into gear, and make us more resolute than ever.
Your story plays out, and someday, you will learn how to tell it in a way that can help others feel less alone. How does your story go? What were the most powerful things that influenced you? So many people give up right before the finish line without realizing how close they were to major successes. Your golden opportunity is waiting right around the corner. Seek to make steps towards living your purpose and be open to discovering your true nature, and college will be a beautiful and transformative experience.
Your 23-year-old self