Like millions of other nervous high school graduates, I devoured dozens of “college readiness” articles over the summer leading up to my freshman year. They all gave advice like, “use a planner,” “go see your advisor in person,” “don’t sit in your room all the time,” and “have fun!!!!” None of them told me this stuff.
I still survived college, and had a lot of fun most of the time; but it would have been nice to know these random tidbits going in. Maybe somewhere amidst the morass of lessons I learned the hard way, you’ll find a thought that will be of service to you. Here’s what I wish I’d known before “Pomp and Circumstance” started playing.
1. I should have given in to The Nap.
When I returned to my dorm after my last class and sat down to try to get a head start on my homework before dinner, I would invariably start to doze instead. I hardly ever got any real work done during that hour.
This nap guide suggests that hour-long naps boost your knowledge intake and memory, which would have been perfectly fine with me. A quick snooze might have made me a more pleasant dinner companion for my friends, and it definitely would have freshened me up for the long night of homework that always followed my evening meal.
2. I should have bought earplugs to wear while napping.
Instead, during the few naps I did try to take, I expected the world to quieten around me. This only set me up to get mad. My anger at my roommates for not maintaining a tomblike silence during my attempted repose crossed the line from “expecting basic decency” to “forgetting that they have their own lives.” Plus, earplugs are like fifty cents.
3. I should have refused to be intimidated by people.
Especially people whose only conflict strategy was to throw a temper tantrum.
4. I shouldn’t have tried to browbeat myself into productivity.
Back then, I didn’t completely trust that taking a real break (even when I’m up against a red-hot deadline) would loosen my creative juices and result in better work. The alternative — viewing my to-do list as a monolith that must not be deviated from until it was complete — stressed me out until I fled to Tumblr for three hours at a time. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to break this cycle.
(Note. PC users, uninstall every browser but Chrome and download the StayFocusd extension. It is your friend. iOS has similar time-management tools.)
5. I should have idolized the popular professors less.
And appreciated the humble ones more.
For that matter, I should have taken a few more classes that were completely unrelated to my career goals, just for the chance to hang out with some truly awesome profs (and students).
6. I should have sought out more color in my white and nerdy world.
I took a “History of Desegregation” class, but never really acted on what I learned.
I told myself several times a semester that I would visit the AME church that weekend, but Sunday morning invariably saw me making the much easier trek across the street to the vanilla familiarity of First Baptist.
I dipped my toe into the multicultural student group, but after 3 or 4 meetings, I got “too busy” and reasoned, “You have to be an athlete before they’ll be friends with you anyway.”
All the times that I failed to take the initiative only added up to a squandered opportunity to understand others better.
7. I should have made a habit of going up to greet people I recognized.
Usually I just glanced over and kept walking, mistakenly convinced that my catching their attention would only bother them. Even worse was how I greeted my friends. I’d sneak up behind them, make a creepy face, and wait for them to turn around. Doing that about once a semester is funny. Doing it once a week is weird.
8. I should have limited my beverage choices to water for most of the week, hardening my heart against the lure of the cafeteria’s three soda machines and the free coffee shop.
Studying late every night and drugging myself awake with caffeinated sugar every morning destroyed my complexion. I’m still trying to repair the damage.