If you did college all over again, what would you do differently?
When I transferred my sophomore year to James Madison University, an upperclassman named Kristi, took me under her wings. She helped me navigate JMU, but more importantly, she helped me navigate relationships and provided a safe place for me to be myself. She encouraged me, challenged me, and continues to do that way beyond our college years. A few months ago, I asked some of my wise friends to answer the above question. My friend, Kristi Fletcher, answered. I can’t think of anyone better who’s advice I would heed. Kristi’s thoughts are below.
Now that I have reached my 30’s there are so many reasons I would not want to be 20 again. I suppose hardships and a lot of growing up has a way of knocking sense into you. When I look back at my college years, there are some things I wish I had done better. I have to admit that a lot of my friends had it WAY more together than I did. Despite believing that the best we can do in life is just to do our best in that moment and walk it all out in faith, here are some of the life lessons I wish I had practiced a bit more in college.
1. Invest for the long haul.
I truly believe that the miracles in our lives start with a change in perception, mentality, worldview, or paradigm. How we think about life is often more important than how skilled we are at putting those convictions into practice. One of the foundations I am still learning is how to live for the long-term in the present.
After graduating, I spent a lot of years overseas. Every once in awhile, I met someone who had lived in a country for nine years and still couldn’t speak any of the local language. Their reason was usually that they didn’t plan to be there for so long, so they never took the time to learn. So what, they can’t speak the local language? It’s not that they didn’t gain a skill that could have made their life easier. They missed out on relationships, cultural nuances, and the ability to live at a deeper level on a daily basis.
But I do that too. It’s hard to put all of your cards on the table and risk being totally engaged. The thing I miss the most when I move (and I’ve moved a lot) is people. My heart breaks every time I have to leave my friends, my local coffee barista, my neighbors, all the familiar faces and acquaintances from my daily routine. My heart breaks, but planning for the long-term frees me up to be present in the here and now, and those people are totally worth it.
I had one friend in college who built amazing relationships with her professors.
I had one friend in college who was super intentional with her close friends and carved out time to spend with them each week.
I had one friend in college who scoured sales to invest in work clothes in hopes that she would one day have the career she was working towards.
I had one friend in college who studied 8 hours a day because her dad told her she should treat school like a real job since that is what she wanted in the end.
I had a friend in college who joined the local church and one of the regular bible studies instead of staying in an all college-student bubble.
Those people were way better at investing than I was.
2. Reciprocal relationships.
One of my friends recently said “the best relationships are those composed of two givers”. By this she meant that each person gives and doesn’t try to match the other person’s investment in the relationship or just let the other person do all the work. Maybe I have some sort of complex but for me college was a time where I loved the community so much I just wanted to hang out with everyone. It was great in the sense that I learned how to be friends with all different kinds of people and had some great memories from spontaneous hang-outs. But in retrospect I think I left my real friends alone too often. Part of college life is having to exercise choice over how to spend your time and energy. Relationships are definitely part of this. Take some time to reflect on your community and your friendships. Does the other person really care about you? Does the other person demonstrate grace? Does the other person see God in you and believe He has a plan for your life? Does the other person give?
I’m not saying these are the only type of people to invest in or to only have a few relationships. I think people should always be open and hospitable to whomever they have in the here and now (see #1) but I am realizing as I get older that these people are rare. They are precious. And they’re worth that special attention, devotion, and extra effort. Pull them in and hang on to them. You’re going to need some people to walk through the rest of life with post-college, and you’re going to love being one of those people for someone else.
3. Develop excellent relaxation skills.
Being an adult sucks sometimes. The stakes are higher, the responsibility greater, and you never feel equipped enough to do what is in front of you. At some point freaking out is inevitable. In college, you have an opportunity to develop some relaxation skills during stress points and see what works. Let me clarify what I mean by relaxation skills: a practice that enables you to slow down and find space to rest and be at peace.
Most of us have been taught how to process. We talk things over with friends, we journal, we write poetry, whatever. But at some point in life you will be so tired and so overwhelmed that before you can process, you need to stop and breathe. This is what I mean by relaxing. Only after you rest and regain some mental and emotional space can you even have the energy to process.
When you get overwhelmed by multiple deadlines and high expectations and friend drama, what do you do? Sleeping may not always be the best strategy. Rushing through things and pulling all-nighters may not always be possible. How can you slow down enough to find peace as you navigate through the stress?
The great thing about college is there are lots of opportunities to try new things and most of it is free. Try out a yoga or pilates class at the gym and figure out if breathing exercises or stretching helps release tension and calm your mind. Many university gyms also offer massages. Seriously, those are way more effective than you probably realize. Spend some time meditating on a verse or walking through the park and pointing out all of the beautiful things to yourself. There are a lot of different ways to help your mind and emotions slow down. Perhaps my experiences after university were a little more extreme than normal, but I learned quickly that my coping methods were no match for life. Equip yourself with some proven strategies so you have a plan for when the shit hits the fan. It will.
Time is a gift in any season. How are you stewarding it? Are you living intentionally in the present?