Advice for college freshmen

Dear College Freshman,

Last spring a couple of good friends had high school seniors graduating and I decided to write them a letter with all of the things I wish I had known when I was heading off to college my freshman year. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve seen tons of posts on social media about my friends’ kids heading off to college, and it has inspired me to share a slightly edited version of that letter here:

Dear College Freshman,

No mushy gushy stuff.  You’re probably getting enough of that from everyone else. Let’s get real.  You’re about to go out into the real(ish) world of college.  I’ve been pondering what I know about life NOW that I really wish I knew when I started college so I could share it with you as you head out into the world.

Without further ado, here is my completely unsolicited (but if I do say so myself, totally wise!) advice for you.

The Top 18 Things I Think You Should Know About Life (that I wish I knew at your age!) – In No Particular Order

1. Meditation makes pretty much everything in life easier and/or better.  I’m not kidding. Everything. If you meditate regularly you’ll be significantly less stressed, more easily focused, connect better with other people (from friends to professors to parents), end up in better physical shape and eating healthier, make better decisions about pretty much everything you have to make decisions about, become more intuitive, become naturally happier, become more creative, become much more comfortable in your own skin, and even just regular old thinking will just be easier because the two sides of your brain will be communicating differently than they do when you’re not a meditator.

You’ll end up with radiant glowing skin and people –even strangers– will somehow end up being nicer to you (it has something to do with the body language and the vibe you put off).  You’ll even have much better sex – better for both you and your partner. (We won’t tell your parents I said that – and I’m not saying you should just go out and have sex unless you’re in a serious committed relationship that involves mutual respect, love and commitment.  You shouldn’t.  It’s just a fact that that is yet another byproduct of meditation).

There are cultures who have understood the incredible power of meditation for thousands of years, and modern science is finally starting to catch up in understanding exactly what it does to the brain (it’s pretty damn cool!) – including changing the neural pathways, linking regions of the brain that are not otherwise linked, and stimulating healthier brain chemicals.  There is a reason most Fortune 500 CEO’s and pretty much every thought leader in Silicon Valley have adopted a meditation routine.  There’s really something to it.

So my advice: learn to meditate now and start doing it for at least 20 minutes every day.  Make it the one non-negotiable in your life.  Seriously.  It’s easy (you can’t really do it wrong) and may just be the best thing you can do for yourself.   (Note it may take a couple of months until you really feel the huge changes, so don’t think that if nothing happens on day one that you shouldn’t keep doing it!).

2. The ONLY person truly, deeply and totally effected by the choices you make in your life is you- so don’t do things for the sole purpose of making someone besides yourself happy with your life choices.  This applies across the board, from going to a party, to choosing your major, to choosing your career path, to dating, and everything in between. Put yourself and YOUR values and priorities and dreams first, before anyone else’s. Even before your parents.

3. As much as I say put yourself first, also always know that we are ALL deeply connected as human beings, and we all have a responsibility to each other.  The more privileged you are (and YOU are privileged, whether you see it yet or not), the more responsibility you have to give back to the world, because you can.  Find a way that makes your own heart sing to give back to the world through some kind of service, as gratitude for all of the gifts the world has given you!  (Try out various ways to get involved.  There are so many options. Find the one that is the most fulfilling for you. What that looks like may change and evolve over time and that’s okay. Just always give back in some way, shape or form).

4. It’s totally okay to change your mind. About anything. Nobody expects you to have everything you want figured out yet (and if they do, who cares. See #2).  Actually, it would be a little crazy if you already knew what you want in life and it didn’t evolve in some pretty major capacity. So “try on” lots of versions of you and see what feels the most right.  You don’t need to know who you are yet. But it is time to start really working to figure that out.  But getting to know yourself is a lifelong process, so it’s always okay to change and grow and evolve – and to keep doing so for the rest of your life.

5. The thing that determines what happens in your life (and what will happen to you in any given moment and in the future) more than anything else on earth is what you think, and what you believe about both the world and about yourself.  Your own mind is the largest creator of the reality YOU live in.  Your thoughts trigger your emotions, and your thoughts repeated over and over become your ingrained beliefs.  These things together dictate your behavior and how you interact with the world.  And the way you interact with the world dictates what flows into your life – from relationships, to jobs, to travel experiences, to material possessions.

Your own personal experiences of virtually everything in life will be a direct result of the lens you CHOOSE to view the world through. And this lens you choose to view the world through will determine whether or not you see the opportunities right in front of you in every single part of your life (or see the chance to create an opportunity for yourself). It will determine whether you follow your ideas and your dreams or not.

This means every single thing that happens within your life is within your control, and it all comes down to what you choose to think and believe.  And make no mistake, your thoughts, and your beliefs (every single one of them) are a choice that you (and only you) make.  What you attract into your life is a direct reflection of how you view both yourself and the world.  So always choose your thoughts wisely because they will eventually become the things and experiences in your life.

6. Spend time with people who are absolutely nothing like you.  Like a lot of time. People of different races and religions and sexual orientations and economic classes and interests have a unique perspective on the world will add 100 times more to your life than spending time with people exactly like you ever will.  It will also keep your life infinitely more interesting and open you up to infinitely more cool things to experience.  And at the end of the day you’ll also realize that no matter your differences, it turns out, at our core, we’re all exactly the same.

7. Life is too short to waste on anyone who doesn’t see the best in you or that has an attitude that brings you down. Choose your friends carefully. Make sure they are good people who lift you up, not people who bring you down.  Make sure they’re good people who lift the world up, not people who bring it down. You become like whover  you spend your time with, so spend time with people who inspire you and that you aspire to be like – those who lift you up along with them, not those who expect you to come down lower to be with them.

8. Nobody else can decide what you think of yourself, and it does you absolutely NO good to think negatively about yourself, so choose to think good things about YOU.  Life is so much better when you talk positively about yourself if your own mind.  And interestingly other people will reflect YOUR views of yourself back to you (even if you never speak them aloud to others), whether those beliefs about yourself are positive or negative.  People subconsciously pick up on how you see yourself – through your body language, your eye contact, your voice, and more.  And then they treat you like the person you see yourself to be.  This includes in the form of life opportunities.

So do whatever you need to to talk about yourself (to yourself) in a positive light.  And if you ever find you’re constantly being hard on yourself about something specific that goes to the core of who you see yourself as or how you value yourself, do some work to figure out the root of it so you can work through it, let it go, and change that negative self-belief to something more positive.

This does not mean you should be egotistical or that you cannot look and see where you can improve.  You should always look for places to grow and become a better version of you.  But it does mean recognizing that if, say (like me), you have a bad singing voice (it’s reallllly bad) that doesn’t mean you are a bad person.  It just means your singing voice happens to be a little shrieky and painful to listen to so a career in singing may not be the best option for you.

9. The people who get to do the coolest stuff in life are the people who know that the only thing allowing them or stopping them is themselves. If you want to do something, there’s always a way. You create your own opportunities.  (And always pay attention for opportunities in life because they’re constantly in front of you if you’re actually looking for them.)

10. Gratitude may just be the most powerful force on earth.  It’s almost impossible to be sad/depressed/lonely/angry when you’re grateful.  Gratitude can get you through anything. If you look there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for – even the hardest situations.

Finding something about a situation to be grateful for does not mean that you are asking for the situation.  For example, I did not want my mom to go through fighting cancer, but while she was I found gratitude.  I found gratitude for how it helped us get closer, the incredible doctors who were treating her, the fact that someone had done the research to create the right medicine for her, and the way she built a closer relationship with her neighbors and learned that she had people that were there for her when life is tough.   That gratitude made it so much easier to get through something really hard.

Gratitude will always make it easier to get through the hard times in life — and it will make you deeply appreciate the good times even more.  So take a little time every day to actually notice all you have to be grateful for.  Make it a habit when things are good, and it will be easy to lean on when times are hard.  (Hey, there’s more science to this if you’re interested.  Look up the science of gratitude!).

11. Everyone we meet is holding up a mirror to show us how we view ourselves.  If something about someone is totally awesome to you, it probably stirs up an emotion about yourself that is something that you love about yourself.  If something about someone bothers you, it’s probably because of something it makes you feel about something in yourself that you don’t particularly like.  Use this as an invaluable tool to know where you truly want and need to improve yourself (or what you need to accept and love about yourself that you don’t accept and love right now).

On the flip side, if something about YOU bothers someone else it is inevitably because of how that thing about you makes them view something in themselves – it is almost never actually about you.  Everyone is battling their own stuff and on some level, in some way, you remind them about it.  So don’t let it get to you.  It’s not you.  Once you realize this life gets way easier.

12. Take care of your body. You have it your entire life and you only get one for this lifetime. Eat organic whenever you can. Try to avoid processed foods when you can.  Exercise. Avoid poisoning yourself too much with too much alcohol or any other drugs.  You can’t undo the damage you do to your body once it’s been done. So treat your body like your most prized possession and take care of it even while it’s young so it can still take care of you when you’re old.

13. The only time that actually exists is right now – this exact moment (the past is over and the future hasn’t happened).  But we all seem to spend most of our mental time in the past or the future rather than experiencing life as it is happening.  Try to stay in the moment right now and actually experience it as much as possible – through all of your senses, as it is happening. The more you do the more you’ll enjoy life (more science alert – there’s also research to support this idea, too. Look up mindfulness science).

14. Start saving money now. Today. Compounding interest is a magical thing. My tip: start automatically taking at least 10% of every penny you earn (or are given as a gift) and put it into an investment retirement account (that earns interest) before you ever count it as money you “own” and can spend. The $1 you put away at 18 that makes 5% compounding interest will be worth $13.46 when you’re 70.  The $1 you put away when you’re 40 will only be worth $4.48 when you’re 70 at the same interest rate.  Your generation is going to live to a very very old age (I heard Bill Clinton say scientists are estimating college kids today will live to be 120) so you’re going to need a lot of money when you’re old. Don’t wait to save it! The more you can save and start earning interest on while you’re young the better off you’ll be for your entire life!

15. Always be kind to everyone, even if they are shitty to you – you have NO idea their story or what they are going through today or this year or this lifetime.  And karma is real, too (even if you don’t want to call it karma).  What you put out into the world always finds it’s way back to you – so make sure you’re always good to others so that the world can do it’s damn best to be good to you, too.

16. Failing is succeeding – but when you fail, do your best to fail fast.  Do not be afraid to try something because you are worried you’ll fail. Failure is a life lesson that will bring you great things later.  The only true failure is not trying something you want to try at all out of fear.

That said, when you fail, fail fast. Accept and admit that you’ve failed, don’t drag it out out of the pain of admitting you have, in fact, failed.  Allow yourself to have the failure, learn the lesson you need to learn, and move on with your new perspective.

17. There are no such thing as grown ups who have life figured out.  Some people just make great guesses and fake it better than others.  So, respect and learn from the wisdom of others who are older and more experienced at life than you, but do NOT ever accept their version of reality as your version of a “life fact” without deciding for yourself that it is right for you.  Be discerning about the advice you will accept and the “truths” you will allow imparted upon you.  When you take advice, adapt it to fit in the best way for you (this may not be exactly in the way it is given).  People (including older adults, parents, mentors, professors, impressive peers, even the most powerful people in the world or motivational speakers) who give you advice can only give their advice through the lens of life experience they personally have lived through.  They will almost definitely mean the best for you, but that doesn’t mean what they say is RIGHT for you.  Only you can know that.  Even the President of the United States – the most powerful person on earth – is just guessing at how to go about life… just like you and I are.

18. Everyone who has told you college is the best time of your life has lied to you. It’s not even close.  I don’t think I know anybody who actually over 30 would identify college as the best time of their life.  Don’t get me wrong – college is pretty awesome.  It’s fun.  It’s an important life experience.  But don’t get caught up in the fear that “this is as good as it gets” or “it’s only downhill from here” that permeates college culture and the college myth.  It’s just not true.  College is very cool – but it’s also full of a lot of ups and downs and drama and growth and learning and rough Sunday hangovers.  You’re busy finding yourself, but you don’t fully know yourself yet.  In my own experience, I have actually found that each year after college has been better than the last (and at this point I’m more than a decade past graduation). So enjoy it – live it, experience it, soak it in.  It is likely to be the best four years of your life UP UNTIL NOW.  But know it’s just the beginning of the awesome things life has in store for you.

Congratulations.  You have survived childhood.

This is your world now.  I can’t wait to see what you turn it into.

And one more thing – you are surrounded by love always, by more people than you could ever possibly know.

Nicole

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