An Open Letter To My College Self
I received a DM yesterday from a college freshman who anxiously reached out seeking advice. As I read her words, I could feel the excitement of starting a new chapter wrapped tightly with the fear of the unknown.
I sat back on my couch, kicked my feet up on our coffee table, closed my eyes and let myself time travel back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I graduated college in 2012 and while that doesn’t make me a dried up dinosaur I’ve been out of the game long enough to confidently be able to look back and see my college self through a different lens.
As I was messaging this follower back and forth she responded with a question that struck me like a bolt of lightning. “What would you tell your college self, Chels?” I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud as I thought to myself oh lord, where do I even start?
Her question inspired me to write a letter to my college self and share it with you. I tried to keep it brief for the sake of sparing you from reading a novel. Whether you’re putting a ribbon on your freshman year or graduated college many moons ago, I hope the below words bring you down your own memory lane.
Hey girl, it’s me. Well, actually it’s you – the same smiley blonde with a few extra years tucked under her belt. It’s been six years since you stepped on campus as a naïve freshman. A lot has happened since your parents dropped you off at your dorm and you failed miserably at holding back crocodile sized tears while hugging them "goodbye.” A lot of good. Some bad. Many lessons learned. Too many drinks consumed. An enormous amount of laughs. And friendships that will last a lifetime.
There is so much I want to tell you. There are so many things and people I want to protect you from. There are surprises that I’m biting my tongue to not tell you because I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. There are times I want to warn you about and times that I want to relive with you. As I sit here, years later, looking back on the college girl that I once was – I smile. I smile because you’re a warrior, a forever loving friend, a light in the room, and you have yet to take no as an answer. I smile thinking about you because you overcame some shit that, to be honest, I wasn’t sure you’d be able to overcome. I smile because you made a lot of mistakes but you learned from them. I smile because your intense devotion to Alabama football is still ingrained in you.
So here we are Chels, years later and you’re still living life to the fullest. As much as I would love to tell you all the things, here a few words that I chose with care.
Let’s start off by talking about boys because let’s be honest, homework wasn’t the main priority. JUST KIDDING, DAD!
Having a big, caring heart will nip you in the ass time and time again but you’ll learn to dust yourself off and stand back up. Even though it will hurt like hell, the guy that you dated since high-school will eventually call it quits in back and forth screaming matches but as time passes, you’ll see with clear eyes that he wasn’t your forever.
You’ll date again.
You’ll date bad guys.
You’ll date good guys.
You’ll sleep with guys who you thought had your best interest at heart.
You’ll sleep with guys who cared deeply about you but you won’t feel the same back.
You’ll go back to flings of the past because you craved familiarity.
You’ll step out of your comfort zone and date guys who in no way, shape or form fit your “type.”
Then, you’ll fall head over heels in love. The guy you meet during your first bartending shift will swoop you off your feet and will eventually leave you on your ass. Love him anyway. Give him your all. Talk about your dreams. Discuss the future. Paint a picture of what you think your life together will look like. The relationship won’t turn out how you once dreamed it would. In all honesty, it will turn in to a living nightmare and you’ll be left with an shattered heart but Chels, love him anyway.
The lessons you will learn about yourself, post break up, will become invaluable to your future relationships and to you as a young woman. Life and love all have a crazy way of working out, I promise.
Ok, let’s talk about the real reason why you’re at college, education. You’ve always been a good student, keep it up. Geology will kick your ass, you’ll shed tears to your professor and show him all your color coded notes after you receive a C in his class. You’ll stay up into the wee hours of the morning studying for tests that you’re not sure if you’ll ever “use this in the real world.” You’ll try to be bad ass once or twice and skip class but the entire time that you’re not sitting in the classroom you’ll have anxiety. You’re a rule follower at heart, don’t try to become someone who you aren’t.
You’ll feel “at home” when you walk into Reese Phifer, the communications building. Your draw to journalism is genuine so don’t doubt yourself. Your GPA won’t win you any awards but it will make your parents and most importantly yourself proud. You go girl.
A Few Other Things
As a freshman, get the lay of the land – ASAP. Walk around campus until you are so familiar with the layout that you could get to your class if you were blindfolded and forced to walk backwards.
As you hit different years in college, always recognize your place. Know your place with the upperclassmen and with the lowerclassmen.
The spotlight of college may remain on being book smart but sister I’m telling you, street smarts are just as important. Listen to your gut, ALWAYS. Your girlfriends will think they have a genius idea and your guy friends will think they are invincible. Neither of which are true. It may be hard at first but build confidence in saying no. Peer pressure is a real thing, you’ll let it get to you a time or two and that’s ok – it’s all a part of the growing pains. But know this, your real friends should never make you do something or go somewhere if you aren’t comfortable doing so. Remember this, ok?
As the 29-year-old version of yourself who hardly consumes alcohol, it’s funny talking to you, the 22-year-old you who stays up until 3AM slamming shots and closing down the bar. I’ll say this – party. Party hard. Dance on tables, drink shitty liquor and stumble home with your girlfriends but before you go out for the night, leave a bottle of Gatorade and an Advil on your nightstand, you’ll thank yourself in the morning. The saying “liquor before beer, you’re in the clear” is real – don’t think you’re the exception. There is no magical cure for a hangover but a hamburger and diet coke will make you feel better, if even for a minute. You’ll drink wine out of a box and later in life the thought of that alone will make you gag. You’ll make some real dumb mistakes while under the influence, some that you’ll remember and some that you’ll never think about again. A moral hangover has the potential to be worse than a physical hangover. To this day, the thought of a moral hangover makes my stomach turn. All I’ll say is – own up to whatever you did, or didn’t do and forgive yourself. You’re in college and while that isn’t an excuse, you’re building character and navigating through the type of person you’re becoming.
I’m not suggesting that you become an ass kisser but shortly after you walk the graduation stage, you’ll realize how small of a world it really is out there. You’ll reach out to professors to write a recommendation and to classmates for a favor. In short, never burn a bridge, ever.
Here’s where we get all sort of sentimental. The friends that you make in college, those girls are your soulmates. The foundation that you build in those four years will be strong enough to handle the roller coaster ride that is life. You’ll forever be picking each other up when you aren’t strong enough to pick yourself up. You’ll celebrate life’s small and big victories. You’ll dry each other’s tears and laugh until you cry. You’ll watch each other walk down the aisle to marry their person. You’ll love their kids as if they are your own. You’ll never hesitate to pick up the phone, regardless of the number on the clock. Never take them for granted, not for a split second. You’ll soon realize that life is short and tomorrow isn’t promised so love those that you hold near and dear to your heart, every day.
College is the best time of your life. Allow yourself to learn, grown, love, and feel. It may not seem like it while you’re living it but those 4 years go by incredibly fast. Do yourself a favor and take a minute to look around. Look around and cherish those around you. Look around and cherish yourself, all that you’ve accomplished and all that you have yet to. Look around and soak in this moment, this exact moment because before you know it you’ll be me (which is actually you) – sitting on her couch in granny panties, reminiscing about her college days. Life will continue to surprise you. You’ll have moments that will take your breath away, in the best way possible. You have so much to look forward to, so much love to give and so much to experience but Chels, don’t rush. Life will play out exactly when and how it’s supposed to, you just have to trust. So, while you’re sitting on your bunk bed adding up your bartending tips while counting down the days until you graduate so you can pack up and move to LA, take a step back and be as present as you can because it will all be over in a blink.
Oh and one more thing, I’m really proud of you.