“You’re going to college!”
“Make the most of these four years, they go fast!”
“Try new things, get involved!”
“But don’t over-extend yourself!”
“Remember, you’re there to learn, school comes first!”
“Be well-rounded though, don’t lock yourself up in the library!”
“But not too much fun!”
As soon as I committed to the University of Delaware, it seemed any conversation I had was centered on, or at least full of advice on how to make the most of my college experience. Aunts, uncles, family friends, friends-of-friends, even my dentist had a word or two of counsel on how to do college “right.” They were valuable pieces of information, wise words based on years of experience, and I knew they would be useful to keep in mind. However, by the time I was pulling up to my residence hall on move-in day, they had accumulated to the point that I felt more paralyzed than empowered.
As I began to try and make decisions, I found myself second-guessing everything. Was that actually the best use of my time? Should I go to bed early or stay up a little later and work ahead? Does hanging out with friends and being social tonight make the most sense, or should I hit the books? With all the guidance I had been provided, I felt I was equipped to have the ideal freshman year, so each day had to go exactly right. I didn’t just want to have the perfect year; I was supposed to have the perfect year. In my book of “how to do college,” there was no margin for error.
Well freshman year came and went, and it was far from perfect. I made plenty of mistakes, slept through my fair share of classes, and mixed up the deadline for more than one assignment. On the other hand, I also joined several organizations that further developed my interests, took classes that inspired me, and made friends that are still some of my closest today. Some exams went better than others, there were good days and bad days, but overall, I look back on that year as a success. I left more than prepared for my sophomore year, and with plenty of fond memories to take with me.
It didn’t matter that each day didn’t achieve a perfect balance of work and play. It wasn’t important that my every action was directly related to my college success story. It wasn’t a big deal that I hadn’t followed every piece of advice I had ever gotten to a tee. I had turned out more than fine, and so had my freshman year. It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect in its imperfection.
The irony is that in trying to make your college experience perfect, in attempting to successfully implement all that advice you accumulate, you make the biggest mistake of all. You will come to expect perfection. As a result, you’ll be set up to face constant disappointment.
If I could go back to that first move-in day, as I stood in an empty dorm room that was as clean and bare as the freshman year that stretched out before me, I would have added one more piece of advice to the list: embrace the mistakes. It’s okay to strive for the ideal freshman year, to try your best to follow all the words of wisdom bestowed upon on you, but it’s equally okay to recognize that shortcomings are inevitable. In fact, it’s okay to anticipate them. Then, when you do encounter them, you don’t have to view them as failures, but rather something to accept and then put behind you. This is the mindset I try to maintain as I continue my college career.
Because chances are, you are going to have a great college experience, mistakes and all. It won’t be perfect, but it will be wonderful.