The following is a letter to freshman and students beginning their college journeys:
Wow. I seriously cannot believe you are headed off to college! It seems just yesterday I brought you home from the hospital, dropped you at your first day of kindergarten, celebrated your first lost tooth, and watched you drive a car for the first time. Each of those milestones pointed us to this moment, when you leave home for a life on your own. You have worked hard to make your dreams come true and your college is very lucky to have you.
While I hope and expect that college is a great experience for you, it is unlikely to be a 100%, universally amazing experience. Like all major life transitions, there will be things that exceed expectations, things that fail to meet expectations, and things that are completely unexpected – both good & bad. The constant through it all will be YOU – you, and your support system like your family and friends. If you remember to come back to yourself, your values, and your goals, you’ll be able to handle the highs and lows with ease.
A few pieces of “advice” from my point of reference – having been through college, having worked at a college, having guided your older sibling through it, being a psychologist, and being a mom who has known & loved you for 17+ years now:
- You don’t need to know it all now. What to major in, what internships to get, what to do next summer, what classes to take – you don’t need to know it all now. As long as at each step you do what you feel passionate about and what makes some sense, it is OK if it isn’t the “exact right” choice or if you don’t know how it all fits together over time. The path will emerge if you trust each step.
- There’s rarely a right or wrong choice, so you can’t mess it up too much. What to major in, what internship to do, summer plans, classes – it’s OK if you make one choice and three months later realize you’d rather do something else. The nice thing about being smart, passionate, interested in lots of things, and having lots of opportunities is there will be MANY GREAT CHOICES in front of you. It can be challenging sometimes to make a choice because saying “yes” to one thing usually means saying “no” to another thing you’d also love to do. This can make it feel like there’s no “right choice”. But really what it means is there is no “wrong choice”! As above, if at each step you are doing something that you’re passionate about and feels right, it’ll work out in the long run. Try to lean in to each experience and not stress too much about how it connects to the next step.
- Life is super long. There’s plenty of time to explore, make mistakes, try things and then try other things. Try to enjoy this time of college. In no other time of your life can you study whatever you want, travel, explore – you don’t need to have it all point to a specific major, job, or grad school yet. There’s plenty of time for that. My own personal history shows this well - I didn’t take A SINGLE PSYCHOLOGY CLASS IN COLLEGE and still ended up with my PhD and a tenure-track job by 32. That’s a perfectly respectable professional trajectory although at 18, 20, 22, and 24 it often looked like I didn’t know what the heck I was doing!
- You are beautiful, you are enough, and you are worthy of love & respect. The college social scene broadly may be stressful at times. You don’t have a ton of experience dating yet, you’re young, and we all can be easily intimidated by the kids who seem so effortlessly beautiful, confident, and at ease in their bodies and life plans. All of this will come in time. As Dr. Seuss said, “there is no one alive who is you-er than you”. Find a way to be comfortable in your skin and the rest will come to you.
- Find a good relationship with your physical health. Exercise regularly but not obsessively; eat healthy but have fun with it; get enough sleep.
- We amplify what we direct attention to. Keeping yourself busy with positive and fun things (classes, friends, clubs) will keep your mind and energy devoted to the positive. Invest in the positive, direct attention to the positive, and it will multiply.
- Focus on high quality over high quantity relationships. The power of close friends, friends who you are comfortable with, who you trust, who support you, is amazing. You’ve been able to build that in high school, so you know what to look for at college. Invest in friendships. In the long run, the people in your life are way more important than anything else.
- Treat yourself with kindness & grace. You will mess up, you will forget an assignment or an appointment, you will say something stupid, you will get moody or irritable. This is just being human. Forgive yourself. Fix it, but also forgive yourself. Show yourself some self-compassion. Remember not one single one of us is perfect or without flaws. You are the single longest relationship you will ever have –treat yourself with kindness.
- It’s OK to fail & it’s OK to ask for help. Fail a class? It’s OK. Have a panic attack? It’s OK. Have an emergency – you’re assaulted, you’re stranded, you did something stupid and are in a mess? It’s OK. Need to go to the counseling center or on antidepressants? It’s OK. Have a huge fight with a friend? It’s OK. Need to take a break from school? It’s OK. Life is long; your mental & physical health is more important than ANYTHING ELSE in the long run. I will always help you if you need it. You will not disappoint me if you fail, make a mistake, need help or a break.
You will always be my #1 priority and I will always be your #1 supporter.