College students are given the unique opportunity to spend the first few independent years of their lives in an atmosphere that cultivates adventure and self-realization without the burden of worldly responsibilities. In the classroom, we are given the tools to think critically and broadly. We spend hundreds of hours absorbing what it means to achieve a higher level of thinking while also learning the importance of humility and dedication.
But what we aren’t taught in the classroom is important as well. Many of our most important life lessons are presented to us not by our professors but by our peers. During a time when we are constantly scrutinized for the way we respond to life’s challenges, it is our integrity that is really put to the test. How we perform on exams may show how far we have come in the classroom, but how we perform when no one is looking shows how far we will go in life. Here are the five most important things that college life has taught me.
1. Live less out of habit and more out of intent.
It was easy to get caught up in a routine, especially when my work and class schedules were the same every week for months in a row. Some semesters challenged my intellect while others just challenged my sleep schedule. But in my ever-growing search for personal growth, I realized that to become the best possible version of myself, I had to live deliberately.
Sometimes this meant challenging myself to reflect more deeply on a seemingly obvious class assignment. Other times, it simply meant not taking the easy way out. I needed to realize that the only limits I faced in my life were self-imposed. The moment I started allowing myself to take positive risks with my assignments and internships, I saw countless opportunities present themselves. It was as if something just clicked, and now I understand that if you want to achieve greatness, you’ve got to stop asking for permission.
2. Choose quality friends.
According to motivational speaker Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely.” This particular quote has proven to be a great tool in choosing my companions. The more I spent time with people who were frustrated with their life situations, the more negative I felt about my own. Conversely, when I started spending time with more motivated, positive people, I felt more motivated and positive myself.
The hardest lesson in friendship that I’ve had to learn is that people are not always who you think they are. In the college setting, everyone is trying to find and present themselves in a way that they think is desirable. Because I like to see the best in the people around me, I tend to overlook their flaws. Unfortunately, toxic relationships are not always obvious, but once noticed, it can only be my fault if I remain in them. As the great Steve Maraboli once stated, “If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck. And if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” I prefer my chickens fried anyway.
3. Human rights are not optional.
Discrimination is a deceptive creature. It often hides in the form of seemingly harmless phrases and outlooks, that invalidate people. There are a number of concepts that I did not know that I didn’t know. Thankfully my gender and intercultural and interracial studies classes helped me understand a few key concepts.
Because of this, I don’t say the words, “That’s so gay,” because gay and stupid are not interchangeable. I don’t use the phrase, “You’re acting like a girl,” as an insult because being a girl is not a weakness. I wouldn’t tell someone to “man up” because strength is not defined by gender or sex. I also don’t assume that because one person does something a certain way that all people of their ethnic background are similar.
People of all walks of life are still fighting a constant battle for equality. The Wall Street Journal published a study that showed prison sentences for black men are almost 20 percent longer than those of white men for the same crime. The Huffington Post revealed that because of the gender pay gap, women work an average of 59 days for free each year. As of 2014, only 30 percent of the United States legally allows gay couples the right to marry. Because I am a human, I will be an activist for human rights.
4. Loving myself can mean saying no, both to me and those around me.
If I said that I’d made it through my college career without ever once eating ice cream for breakfast, I’d be lying. There are a lot of wonderful freedoms that go along with newfound independence, and bad eating habits are only a few of them. But as Peter Parker from the movie “Spider-Man” taught me, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’ve had my fair share of punishments for eating poorly and not getting enough rest — all of which resulted in missing out on more fun things later because I was in bed with a cold.
Now that I am more experienced, I know when I need to slow down and focus on my needs. My biggest challenge was learning to say “no.” I’m the type of person who likes to rise up and attack the day with enthusiasm, but I’m not superwoman. Sometimes it is best to slow down and let someone else take the wheel for a while. I’ve learned that healthy habits create a healthy mind and body. I’ve also learned that it is okay to ask for help or decline to be a part of something because I need a break. After all, if I can’t take care of myself, how can I expect to be responsible for anything else?
5. “Life is a book and those who do not travel only read a page.” – St. Augustine
I am overcome with wanderlust. I have danced in the streets of New Orleans and eaten pasta in Tuscany. I drank champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I have gone swimming off of the shores of the Bahamas. There is no comparison to the feeling of embracing a culture. Each civilization is full of unique flavors and smells. It is one thing to read about the palace of Versailles, but to actually see it? Even as a journalist, I must admit that there are times when words just simply cannot do justice to the beauty of the world. But if it weren’t for my privileged position as a student, I would not have had half of the travel opportunities that have been presented to me.
I didn’t attend every collegiate journalism convention that I was invited to, but the few that I was able to presented me with opportunities to stay in a new city and meet other students with similar interests. Travel, regardless of the mileage, cultivates growth. No matter who I meet, there will always be someone who knows something that I don’t. There will always be a history waiting to be heard and a sunset ready to be seen.
With an open mind comes an appreciation for the people of the world, so when media report that bad things are happening to these people, the problems become real. When we realize how important it is to take care of our neighbors, we can prevent tragedy and create hope. Travel inspires the passionate to become a voice for the voiceless. It cultivates perspective and promotes an understanding that there are other problems that need to be addressed and that maybe the life we lead is really better than we took it for.