Dear College-Aged Me

You’re okay, man.

Like, for real. You’re really okay. I remember the late night prayers, the moments stolen away between classes, the silent cries in your head unheard in the hubbub of college life – simply pleading God, I just want to be okay.

Let me be the first to tell you that you are.

I know you more intimately than anyone and I can tell you you’re okay. I know about the anxiety. Depending on when you catch this in your college journey, you may not even know about it yet. If you don’t, surprise!! It’s a thing. You worry if a lot of things are okay – who you are, why you are, what you’re doing, why you’re doing, if God’s really who you hope he is. I know you feel alone in all these doubts, but you’d be surprised how many of the people you share those incessantly awkward avoideyecontactwhilewalkingpast moments feel the same way. Nobody talks about it though, and I regret waiting this long to bring it up.

I’m writing this letter to you over a year after graduation, which means you survive that Mayan-calendar-apocalypse-seeming day. I know you’re worried about so many things regarding post-grad life, but since I’m you (albeit a better looking, more humble you) I can talk right to the heart of your fears – I’m happy, man.

Am I happy all the time? Nope. In all your time spent worrying about the possible hardships of the future after school ends, you don’t even come close to the hardships you get to face. But you wouldn’t believe the joys you find, either. Those hardships and joys coalesce into a beautiful mess which is your life. And it’s a damn good one.

Here are some thoughts/things I’ve learned:

1. Dude. Sleep.

Maria Popova (you like her writings a lot these days) said to “be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work” in a self-reflective article she wrote about what’s she’s learned from seven years of writing full-time. Come to think of it, I remember your grades so maybe be more disciplined about sleep than you are about school.

Popova went on to say some of your peers view sacrificing sleep to work hard as a badge of honor, but “what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities.” Don’t do it, man. Get your z’s.

2. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up

I’ve thought about this for some time, and I can’t remember any one person that made me feel like I had to have my whole future mapped in precise detail by graduation. I can remember little things – a conversation with a professor, a class lecture, an article I read – but no once specific person I can blame. Which is just as well, cause we wouldn’t be very good friends nowadays.

That you feel you need to know exactly where you’re “supposed” to be after college is completely ludicrous and the absolute worst kind of pressure. You’re in college. You’ve never had a professional job. Your classes aren’t preparing you at all for what having a real job is like (trust me).  So how can we (the “adults”) expect you to know your career goals, let alone where you want to be in five years?

I know how you feel. You doubt your choice in a major every day. Couldn’t I just as easily gone into youth ministry? Or graphic design? Or marketing? Or business?

Honestly? Yes, you could have. You’ll meet some people who seem destined for their area of study, like it would be absurd for them to go into anything else. These people discourage you because you know you’re not one of them. You know what? That’s okay. You’re okay.

With some perspective now, I can now tell you that you could have gone into any of those other fields. But these doubts would have followed you because (as you will soon realize) believing in an ultimate calling has some negative side effects. If you decide any field of study is your calling, the place you’re destined to be, you will always feel doubt. What if this isn’t my calling? This isn’t as fun as I thought it would be, or even that fulfilling. What am I doing with my life?

Here pretty soon you’re going to have a bit of an emotional crisis (sorry, no avoiding that one), but you’ll emerge having decided what’s really important to you in life. You’ll even get tatted up so you never forget it.

You’re going to decide what’s worth chasing, and I can tell you now it’s not money, fame, power, or a higher position in a corporation. Lots of people have chased these things, and they all 1) are jerks in complete denial of themselves, 2) are really unhappy and may or may not know it yet, or 3) told the world “don’t do this, it isn’t worth it” and started chasing something more meaningful.

So stick to your guns, that way you don’t fasttrack yourself toward a mid-life crisis. Chase these things that are important to you. But also respect the fact that you’ve been given gifts and talents. Dude, there’s some stuff you’re really good at. Make sure you’re using these gifts as you do your chasing, and the doubts will start becoming quieter and quieter.

Don’t be ashamed of where you wind up after college. You’re not any less successful at being a human if you don’t jump right into “your career” like your buddies. That being said, have some respect for yourself; if you don’t like where you are, change it. Don’t be sedentary.

 

3. You really do make your own happiness

I hinted at this already, but it’s worth stating directly – you make your own happiness, man. You’re going to be at your happiest when you’re making conscious, deliberate choices toward those things you’ll decide are important to you.

There’s no such thing as the “perfect place,” so stop dreaming of it. People are right when they say the grass is greener on the other side of the fence – until you hop said fence and realize your grass was just as green the entire time. You try so hard to self-improve that you don’t ever stop to realize the beauty of the present.

Brennan Manning said in his book The Furious Longing of God, “I’ve decided that if I had my life to live over again, I would not only climb more mountains, swim more rivers, and watch more sunsets; I wouldn’t only jettison my hot water bottle, raincoat, umbrella, parachute, and raft; I would not only go barefoot earlier in the spring and stay out later in the fall; but I would devote not one more minute to monitoring my spiritual growth. No, not one.”

Stop worrying about yourself so much and live your damn life. Screw up, learn, repeat. Stop pursuing perfection. Enjoy your life. That’s how you’ll be happy.

————————-

Alrighty, well that’s that. So why am I writing this, if I’m not even going to send this to you?

Reader: Wait, you’re not even going to send this?!

No, reader, because that’s impossible. Not how life works. But even if I could communicate with my college-aged self, I’m not sure I would. Learning from the mistakes I’ve made has brought me to where I am. I have a beautiful life. Not because it’s perfect, but because I’m choosing to see the beauty in it. I wouldn’t jeopardize this place for the world.

So no, I didn’t write this for Joe 2+ years younger. I wrote this for myself now. I wrote this so I could articulate that last paragraph. This letter is me fully recognizing some of the mistakes I’ve made, respecting that they’ve brought me to where I am, and moving on. Nobody’s ever said the secret to happiness is dwelling in the past, and I think there’s good reason for that.

I also wrote this for the college student reading it. I hope you heard a little bit of your own story here, and came away hearing that you’re okay. You really are.

 

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