Imagine you are going back to your high school and giving the students a speech about life, academics, success, hardship, identity and/or the pursuit of happiness. What would you tell them?
Think of your life 10 years from now. What would it look like? Who would be in it? What would you be doing? What would your job be? Would you be married? Would you have kids? Would you be happy? Why or why not? Now take a moment to envision your ideal, future self. Let that image really sink in and actually try to picture the smallest details, even down to what you look like and what you would be wearing.
Open your eyes, or if you didn’t close your eyes, slowly come back to the present. Now I want you to completely erase all of those images, dreams, and aspirations. Get them all completely out of your head because I’m here to tell you that they are probably not going to happen. At least not in the exact way that you planned. I’m not saying this to discourage any of you; rather, I want to prepare you for adulthood and reality. It may seem that I am being harsh or pessimistic, but I’m not being either. I’m here to keep it 100 with you, to be real and tell you how it is because I care for you all and I want the best for each and every one of you.
The world outside of these four walls is a nasty place. Wherever you go there are going to be people who may not like you. In fact, they may even hate you, whether you give them a reason to hate you or not. There are people who are going to try and take advantage of you, and there are even people who are going to deceive you and betray you. Not everyone is truly going to be your best friend.
There are going to be moments when you feel alone, scared, homesick, and even ashamed. There may be times when you look at your life and completely hate the person you have become because you may do everything you say you would never do. Or you may love the person you have become because the old you didn’t know how to “live it up while you’re still young,” but partying, clubbing, drinking, hooking up, smoking, and all of that gets old after awhile.
At one point during your college career you are going to break down. You are going to experience the worst feeling in the world, a feeling of hopelessness and despair. You will question who you are and what your purpose on this earth is. Why are all these bad things happening to you? What did you do to deserve them? Many college students go through an identity crisis at least once while they are in college. Some college kids even consider committing suicide because they do not know how to deal with these overwhelming emotions.
We all hit our breaking point. It’s that point in life where we realize that there is absolutely nothing we can do to be perfect or live the perfect life. I truly hope that you reach that ugly place at some point during college. You know why? Because it is better to reach your worst and darkest point during your college years because then you have the rest of your life to truly embrace and learn from life. Instead of making the same mistakes over and over again and then have a midlife crisis, you learn while you’re young so you thrive when you are old. So that when you encounter a distressing situation you can just laugh at it and say, “I’ve been through this before; this is nothing.” I’m not saying hope for the worst, but I’m saying be open to change and be ready for whatever life throws at you.
Ok. Enough with the reality check. College is not the worst, most morbid experience that life has to offer as you may be thinking as a result of my speech. I just wanted to get it in your head that college is not all fun and games. There are life lessons that must be learned in order to grow and improve as an individual. There are beautiful, wonderful aspects to the college life as well. It is in college that you meet people who will have life-changing impacts on your life. Your professors, your classmates, your co-workers, people you volunteer with, heck even random people on the street. They are all likely candidates for making an imprint on your life. You may even meet people who remain lifelong friends, those friends that last and are truly there for you. You get to experience freedom and learn how to live independently. You get the chance to truly figure out who you are and why you believe what you believe. You get to defend your assertions and make an impact on others’ lives as well. You get to network and (hopefully) study things that absolutely intrigue you, things you love. It is that one point in life that you can live freely and explore what the world has to offer you.
From personal experience, the more open you are to growing and learning, the more opportunities you are given to learn, and the happier you become. The summer of 2010 was perhaps the most exhausting summer of my life. I worked two jobs from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m every day. Some weekends I even managed to work a third job as a camp counselor. At one point during the summer I was so exhausted that I got really sick, and I was forced to stay home and sleep. It was at that time that I reflected on the summer. I was so busy working and stressing and struggling to survive that I failed to notice what beautiful opportunity I had been given to make an impression on people’s lives. I was working with babies at a daycare. Who is more impressionable than a two-year-old child? I was working with college students that struggled with their writing. They came to me looking for answers. What an honor to be able to make them feel at ease! At the same time, I also asked the question, “What can I learn from them? What is God teaching me through this hectic situation?” Once I asked these questions, I learned the answers.
I needed to experience these things in order grow. I needed to feel absolutely hopeless in order to realize that I do have hope. I learned that no matter how hard I try, I cannot live my life on my own. I need people, and I need the grace that God has given me through His son Jesus. Working at the daycare, I gained valuable skills that will help me be a better mom than I would have been without the experience I had there. I learned to forgive others, even when I feel that they do not deserve to be forgiven. I learned to stop living in a fantasy land, to wake up and realize that the life I am living is real; time is ticking. I learned to take each situation in life one step, and one breath, at a time. I learned that although I won’t be able to reach every single one of my dreams, I can still dream and I can still hope. But I can’t be disappointed when things don’t go exactly the way that I envisioned.
Bottom line, don’t be naïve or live in a dream land, but also don’t be afraid to dream or lose sight of your dreams. Because once you give into the lie that life is all fun and games or life is completely terrible, the harder it is to take each experience as one that you can grow from. Be realistic, but also stay humble.
I can now say that I am a happier person having gone through some very trying situations. I am happy because I learned to keep my head up and not wallow in self-pity. Sometimes I need people to remind me of that, but that’s what friends are for Remember: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17: 22). Live life joyously; don’t resent it; and keep pushing.
Post submitted by Casey O’Neill