So you’re more than a month into your time here at the College of William and Mary. You’ve made it through orientation and its endless barrage of icebreakers, started getting used to your class schedule and signed up for a dozen club listservs. You could honestly describe yourself as a socially-engaged, fully-functioning college student. And yet you can’t help feeling like you haven’t had that moment yet — the one where you realize that you’re living “the best years of your life.”
You’re not the first person to feel this way. It was only a year ago that I was in your position, a freshman trying to adjust to living away from home for the first time. In the summer leading up to my arrival on campus, it seemed every adult I met had the same speech ready for me: “Oh, you’re going to love it so much. Honestly, college is just the best time. I wish I could go back.”
A month later, and I had made a real effort to turn that spiel into reality. I joined a variety of clubs, went to campus events and bonded with my hallmates. Nevertheless, I still felt like I was failing in some way. I was still lonely and homesick sometimes. I had yet to make close friendships, find my passion or taken an eye-opening class. To me, that felt like a failure — I was failing to create the “best years of my life.”
Looking back now, those worries are almost comical. Just a few months later, I had an amazing group of friends, found my place working on the campus newspaper and learned eye-opening things in each of my classes. Most importantly, I was no longer agonizing over whether or not I was maximizing my opportunities in college.
That’s the funny thing about life-changing experiences — they tend to happen when you aren’t looking for them. They also don’t usually come in the form of a single, definitive moment. Your life changes over time; it’s not an automatic shift once you wave goodbye to your parents and walk into your dorm. It takes trying multiple clubs, attending countless events and experiencing a whole range of emotion before realizing you’ve come full circle.
Ultimately, the best conversation I had with an adult about college before I left for campus was the one I completely overlooked. During our last class with him, one of my high school teachers gave us some final words of wisdom about our freshman year: “It’s going to seem like everyone has their life figured out, and you’re going to feel like the only kid who’s completely lost. Believe me, everyone has zero idea what’s going on — some people are just better at hiding it than others.”
Live your life, and don’t worry about if you’re doing it the “right” way. Follow your own instincts, and don’t make yourself anxious over how you compare to others. And above all, be wary of the all-too-common “best years of your life” comment.
Your time here isn’t about beating everyone else and winning at college. It’s about learning about yourself, trying new things, making mistakes — all the things necessary to not only having a wonderful time during these next four years, but an even better time throughout the many years to follow.
Email Isabel Larroca at firstname.lastname@example.org.