College Advice: 10 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Freshman-Year Self
I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m a college graduate… does that mean I’m a REAL adult!? Thinking back on these past four years, it hit me that I just really, REALLY wish I could've given my freshman year self some college advice.
It’s hard for me to even put into words how graduation this past weekend made me feel – excited, joyful, sad, nervous, antsy, terrified, proud… it kind of made me feel ALL the feelings and I just tried my best to embrace it. One moment I would be packing up my apartment feeling on top of the WORLD. Feeling so elevated and excited about being done with college, about moving back to the city I feel most at home, about the adventures and experiences to come. Then ten minutes later I would find a photo in my desk of me and my best friend and start crying and want to never ever ever ever have to leave. My emotions were like a derailed rollercoaster ya’ll. So instead of fighting it, I buckled up and went along for the ride.
There is so much that I’m still sad about – not living with my best friends (when you live with the same girl for four years you kind of forget how to function without her by your side…), not being on my beautiful campus in the strange little town it’s in (it’s one of those towns you love but also hate and just can’t decide how you feel about it), not being able to run on the gorgeous country roads as the sun rises over quiet fields… but mainly it was just really REALLY hard to leave my best friend.
But at the same time, there is so much that I’m so HAPPY and EXCITED about – being back with all of my amazing friends here, being back at HOME (yes, I’m actually excited to be living at home for now ya’ll!!), getting to spend time with my parents, living back in my beautiful city with it’s beautiful lake and hustle and bustle vibe, getting to run along said beautiful lake, having so much quality, healthy food at my fingertips (from Whole Foods to a number of amazing farmers markets, this foodie is a happy foodie), getting to truly dive into the blogging community in Seattle, getting to finish up my personal training certification and see where it leads me, getting to dedicate my time to the blog and all of my future projects and dreams, never ever ever having to write an essay on or study a topic that I don’t care about… there is SO MUCH to be happy and excited about and I know it will just take some adjusting time to shed the lingering feeling of sadness.
And naturally, being a very reflective person, I’ve been thinking back on the past four years A LOT. And I’ve realized (lots of realizations goin’ on lately), although those four years encapsulated the hardest and worst points of my life, they also included the best points. And I wouldn’t change ANY of it. I went through hell and back during college (you can read more about my story here), but I came out so much stronger and I’m so proud of myself for that. But although I wouldn’t change the past four years, there are a few things I wish I could go back and tell my freshman self. Because everyone could use a little college advice:
Care less about what others think: I remember back to freshman year when I wouldn’t even imagine going to class with no makeup on or when I would get embarrassed walking through the boy’s hall after a run. Flash forward to my last year in college and I was rocking the no makeup, messy bun look far too often around campus. Realize NO ONE cares and just do you girlfriend. Letting go of perfectionism and embracing yourself fully feels so good.
Don’t waste so much time and energy on boys: Yes, boys are fun. No, I don’t regret the relationships I’ve had. BUT spend less time overthinking situations/conversations with boys. Stop wasting time on boys that don’t deserve your time, don’t respect you or don’t treat you like you know you deserve. Know your worth girlfriend!
Talk about your struggles and seek help: When you go through hell (and yes, you will go through hell, but it’s all a part of your journey), don’t internalize it all so much. Don’t hide away from the grief, don’t shut down, don’t get angry when others try to talk to you about it. Open up, seek help, lean on others, get that counselor the first time it's suggested. Healing takes time and effort, but it can’t happen if you push it all aside.
Hold your best friends close: You friends are your rocks and you’re so lucky to have them. Especially your day one partner in crime. Yup, you’ll live with her all four years and yup, you’ll cry more times than you can count when you have to leave her after graduation. Be so damn thankful for that friendship, even during the bumpy times because she’s the one who sticks with you through it ALL, lifts you up, makes you LOL, encourages you and GETS you.
Grades aren’t worth stressing over: Guess what? The less you stress about grades the more energy and mental capacity you have to just get sh*t done and rock your schoolwork. Grades aren’t the end all be all and I promise, one day you finally stop caring about grades… and you still get straight As. So start that not-caring earlier and I promise you’ll STILL get great grades. Just without the tears, anxiety and panic attacks. YAY.
It’s not the water fountain Nat: You know how you think you feel like absolute trash every day because “there must be something in the water fountain” in your dorm? Sorry to break it to you but you’re intolerant to most foods under the sun AND you have an autoimmune disease. Fun right!? The sooner you start searching for answers for your health the sooner you’ll start feeling better. So maybe ditch the beers, 2am pancakes and hungover bagels. Just a thought. ;)
Be loud and proud about your passions: Don’t be so shy about your passions when you start the blog!!! Don’t overthink what others think about it, because if anyone judges it, then they can get lost. It makes you happy, it fuels your fire and, one day, it’ll grow into something so much bigger than you ever imagined. Just wait!
You can’t truly do it all: I know it’s tempting to do it all, or at least try to. To hold leadership positions, get perfect grades, be social, but also be a grandma, etc. etc. Realize that there comes a time when your plate really does get too full and that’s when your own health (mental and physical) start to become an afterthought. Take care of yourself first, prioritize your health, learn to say no to make room for more important things.
Slow down and soak it all up: Four years truly does fly by. And it flies by FAST. So, soak it all up. Journal so you don’t forget anything. Say yes to opportunities. Make silly memories. Look around you and notice – the people, the beauty, everything. Even during the hard times, try your best to not wish the days away. Time in college is so fleeting and trust me, you’ll be so sad when it’s over.
When you think “ugh I just can’t wait to graduate” know that you’ll cry on ten separate occasions on graduation day alone: This goes with the previous point – there will be times that you wish you could just throw in the towel and be done already. But the good truly does outweigh the bad, so just think of all of the amazing memories and opportunities college has provided you with and try to squeeze in as many as you can before leaving. You’ll be glad you did later.
If something has ever been so bittersweet, it was the moment I walked across that stage, outside in the beautiful Oak Grove on campus, with the sun shining, friends and family clapping, the president telling me he was proud of me… “Natalie Kelley, Summa Cum Laude…” my heart was pounding so loud I swear I barely heard my name. This. Was. It. All of my hard work, stress-induced tears, ups and downs, moments of the most heartbreaking grief and moments of the purest joy, belly laughs, silly memories, 1am dance parties, pre-class long runs – it was all coming to a close right here. Right now.
But as a million and two memories flashed through my brain as I walked across that stage and took my diploma, I realized that although yes, I was walking away from the place that became home and the people that became family, that I was closing a door, a door that has so much of my story behind it, I was also opening a new door. I was taking the first steps into the future. Into MY future. The future I have decided to work my butt off for and to create and manifest for myself. I realized although my heart was breaking in some ways, it was also glowing in others. I realized that I will forever and ever and EVER hold the memories I created in my four years at Linfield near and dear, but I also have so many memories ahead that I have yet to experience. So many adventures, accomplishments, travels and friendships to uncover. It’s almost too overwhelmingly exciting when I think of all to come (but in the best possible way).
Being home I already feel my creative juices flowing like mad. Sit me down with my mom (aka my best brainstorming partner) and two hours can fly by without me even realizing until I look down and see the notebook pages filling up with ideas and inspiration. My heart and my mind are bursting here and I can’t wait for all to come.
So, if there’s one last thing I wish I could tell my freshman self, one more little note I wish I could just slip under her door, it’s this – brave girl, when you feel like you might break, when you hit that rock bottom, keep fighting. Fight harder than you’ve ever fought. Fight hard, but let others help you fight. Because life is beautiful and YOU are strong and don’t you ever, ever forget that. Because one day, you’re going to walk across that stage, walk out of these four years more resilient and more YOU than you ever thought possible. You will walk across that stage with the happiest heart, bursting with passion, with the brightest future ahead, despite feeling like the grief will never end. The hard times will shape you, mold you, push you, but they won’t break you. One day, you will find yourself. Find the you you were always meant to be. You will help others, live a passion-filled life, find your hustle and blaze a path for yourself. But for now, embrace it all. The crazy, the sadness, the awkwardness, the late nights, the early mornings, the friendships, the essays, the dining hall food. Embrace it, love it and never ever forget it. You’ve got big things ahead of you and you’re going to make yourself so proud.