Sometimes I get a hot sec to sit back and (not) relax and realize a few facts: It’s almost May, I’m getting married in less than six months, I’m graduating from Wharton in even less time than that, and holy SMOKES how different I am today than four years ago this time. Four years ago already, I was at Penn, probably stressing out over exams and thinking I’d be going into corporate marketing at some kickass company while being all lovestruck by J. Fast forward to now, and I’m running my own business and marrying the guy. Like, what?
I feel like I’ve come oh so far since wandering into Penn as a wide-eyed 18-year-old, but there are definitely days where I feel like I haven’t come far at all – even days where I feel like I’ve regressed and have no clue what I’m doing and someone please just tell me everything will be ok and I’ll make it somewhere in life.
One thing I realized: you will probably never feel like you have your shit together.
Among this, there are 14 other lessons I’ve learned thus far from freshman to senior year at Penn. I’m sure I’ll add a few more before I actually walk across the stage, but until then, in no particular order, here’s the lessons I would tell my freshman year self:
- The status quo isn’t more comfortable than the place you’re meant to be. I feel like in the Wharton School this is particularly true – there is a distinctly stereotypically superior path that all financial gurus take, and it involves either investment banking, corporate finance, or consulting and a certain Wall Street. I knew from the getgo that that life was soooo not for me. It’s just not who I am, and at first, it was terrifying feeling like I was at a school that wasn’t targeted for my lifestyle of choice. But it was also terrifying thinking I should force myself into something that I just didn’t like, let alone love. Don’t be afraid to shop around and find the path that’s yours to walk confidently – it’ll feel so much better than a status quo that is ill-fitting to you.
- You do not need to ace every class to be a success story. Heck, you can get a few C’s on your transcript and still “make it” in life. Just Google “failure success stories” and you’ll see a slue of articles talking about arguably some of the most successful people of this century, many of whom weren’t necessarily the valedictorian of their college class. Some even dropped *out* of college (lookin’ at you, Mark Zuckerberg).
- What feels big now is really pretty small in the overall picture of your life. The next time you’re hardcore stressing out over a midterm exam or paper that counts for this seemingly huge chunk of your grade, think about what that really means in the grand scheme things. I know it feels like this whopping weight on your shoulders in the moment, but try to take a step back and reflect on how your life might look in one year – in ten years – regardless of how you do on that one test or assignment. Chances are, there will be so many other things that actually impact the trajectory of your life, and this one thing won’t be one of them. Isn’t that a relief?
- You’ll get there. J used to tell me this all. the. time. and it drove me totally bonkers. When will I get there? Can it be tomorrow? Can it be right now? But for real. You’re already a bright, ambitious, talented young person in this world, and you’re taking solid steps regularly to position you towards reaching your goals. YOU. WILL. GET. THERE.
- Value friendships first and foremost. Sometimes, before school. That doesn’t mean stay out until 3 every night just having fun or completely disregarding schoolwork for a good time. What it does mean? Make sacrifices for your friends. Put them first. Go out of your way to show your friends that you really, really care about and need them in your life. Remember that one test/assignment dilemma in point 3? You might not be able to recall your grade on the test (or if you’re anything like me, your grade in the class, professor – even the name of the class might be forgotten), but you WILL remember the friends you make in college. Your GPA will follow you to your first job post-grad – your friends could follow you forever. Think about that the next time you’re considering bailing on a friend’s birthday celebration, or when you’re reluctant to reach out yourself.
- Dating does not have to be a hindrance to your education, your advancement, or your life. In fact – it might just get you farther faster. I first met J about a month before my freshman year commenced. Cue the panic of my parents when I tell them I’m dating an older guy before I even begin my college experience. So many times I hear people say they’re not interested in dating because it’ll just hold them back in their careers and be too much of a time suck. But here’s the thing: the right person won’t hold you back – they’ll lift you up and push you closer to your deepest dreams and ambitions. The right person won’t steal all of your time, because they’ll want you to have the fullest life possible, and that means spending time with other people and experiencing new things. Finding my right person in college changed my life for the better (obvi), because J is my biggest support, never letting me settle for anything less than amazing. He’s helped me dream bigger and wilder and actually turn ambitions into actualities, and I really don’t know if I would’ve gotten to that place without his undying vote of confidence.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Find your comfort zone, and then vow to leave it at least once a day in some way, no matter how small. Nothing good or worthwhile ever happens in comfort zones.
- Do you, unashamedly and unabashedly and unapologetically. You may think you already defined yourself in high school, or that you already have a pretty good idea of who you are. That might be true, too, but then it’s even MORE important to never falter from you. Don’t succomb to the peer pressure to drink the Koolaid (or, let’s be real, jungle juice) of everyone else. It might feel like everyone and their mother places Goldman Sachs on a golden pedestal – like working there will finally mean that you made it and will earn you respect that you desperately want. But if the name “Goldman Sachs” really means nothing to you and you couldn’t care less about investment banking, then don’t you dare pursue that path with pride. Do you. I don’t care if you think your post-Ivy-League calling is training dolphins at Sea World (guilty as charged, my childhood ambition come to life), you are a more respectable human being for being unafraid to just go after what *you actually want* and not want you think everyone else wants, both for themselves and for you.
- Your time is no more valuable than anyone else’s. Surround yourself with people who believe that, too, and respect your time as well as their own. Be generous with your own time and resources and care, and expect others to do the same. Be humble, and know that your time just doesn’t mean more because you think your to-do list is “more important” than anyone else’s.
- Learn to be financially savvy ASAP. It’s tempting to want to go out to eat with your friends all of the time, hit up BYOB’s and downtown parties, but MAN OH MAN does that drain the bank fast. Even though it feels really “adult” and isn’t exactly fun, try to start practicing restraint by creating a loose budget for yourself and sticking to it. Besides actually having a few bucks to your name by the time graduation rolls around, you’ll also be forced to get creative with friends and not just take the perhaps easier, more expensive option.
- Actually get to know your professors. Really know them. Oftentimes, they’re fascinating people. One of my absolute favorites professors of all time is one of my biggest mentors now, and he is a flat out *superstar*. He just filmed a TED talk in Cali – like, an actual TED talk, he’s the highest rated and youngest tenured professor at Wharton, he’s got two bestselling books, is close friends with Sheryl Sandberg…and also has three kids and a 10 year+ marriage. Did I mention he’s in his thirties? Take advantage of the amazing resources right in front of you, and resist every urge to tweet your way through lecture. #guilty
- Let yourself have fun. Force yourself to do something you didn’t think you’d ever do. Stay up ’til the wee hours of the morning laughing and talking with friends, do something crazy, know when to stop working and let loose, and kiss the guy already.
- You are going to feel broken. You are going to experience anxiety like never before. You’ll go to therapy. You’ll have nights sobbing in your room alone feeling alone, misunderstood, and unwanted. You are going to feel broken. But you are never actually alone. Everyone is going to feel broken, at times. But being broken, even if for a moment, does not mean you are a defect. Never (ever) be ashamed of yourself for being human. Remember how you feel at your lowest lows, and channel that into supporting and loving every other person that crosses your path. Help them remember that they, too, are not defects. Every rose has its thorn, and we’re all coming up roses. 😉
- Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. Stop comparing to anyone at all. You will never (ever ever) fully know or understand the elements of someone else’s journey that brought them to where they are now, as you see and perceive them. So why the HECK do you keep comparing yourself to others, judging yourself and criticizing your own efforts and accomplishments with others’ successes and experiences being the baseline?!? Stop it. The grass is not greener on the other side…the grass is green where you water it.
Do you agree with what I would tell my freshman year self?
If these lessons resonate with you, pleasepleaseplease share this post with a friend, particularly with anyone who might be early on in their college career or soon starting. And I’d lovelovelove to hear your thoughts. I’m feeling totally sappy and full of bittersweet emotions right about now, so leave some awesome in the comments below. What would YOU tell YOUR freshman year self? What were the biggest lessons you learned in college? In a comment, fill in the blank…”I would tell my freshman year self _____”
Ready, go. 😉