Don’t Call College The Best Years of Your Life
I hear this all the time: make the most of college because these are the best years of your life. You won’t get them back, so live it up. It’s easy to believe: after all, college includes extreme over-indulgence, few responsibilities apart from making it to class on time and doing some work, frequent binge-drinking and apart from having to pay for booze and food, few expenses. In all honesty, college is awesome.
After graduation, all that freedom disappears. Suddenly, you have to be an adult, when you’ve just spent the last four years determinedly avoiding adulthood and acting a little like an overgrown, drunken five-year-old. You have to be responsible for rent, insurance, car payments, going to work on time and actually doing that work, and creating relationships with people who don’t live three doors away from you.
The common wisdom that college is the best four years of your life is meant to make us cherish those years, to have “no regrets” and to not waste those years thinking too much or having too many responsibilities. I’ve heard countless peers and classmates in college express their unwillingness to date in college because they were sure those relationships wouldn’t last beyond the hallowed halls of their university. “Why waste these years with actual feelings?” their comments subconsciously argued. For now, the bubble of fast pleasures and instant gratification was more than enough for them—it was everything.
Part of the problem of assuming that college will be the best time of your life is the pressure it creates. People romanticize college to an absurd point. And everyone follows suit, assuming that these years will be the best they’ll ever have, and then getting frustrated or insecure when it turns out that you’re struggling more than you thought you would in college, or you’re less happy than you think you should be.
As for me, I’m certain that college were not even close to the best years of my life, fraught as they were with weekend double shifts, a crazy commuting schedule, friends who were constantly changing and much more selfish than my high school buddies, and the constant nagging feeling that my degree would amount to nothing after graduation. I had fun and tried to make my college years live up to all the hype, but it wasn’t until after graduation that I finally felt relief.
After graduation, the script gets thrown out the window. Sure, post-grad life is full of the pressures and anxieties of being a full adult, and often it’s ten times more stressful and confusing than our college years. But for me, and I’m sure for many others like me, having the chance and the freedom to build a life on my own terms was immensely satisfying.
No longer did I feel like I was trying to fit into a place I wasn’t sure I belonged. I stopped trying to follow suit and do what everyone else was doing, to play by the rules (even when the rules were “have adventures” and “be careless”). Finally, I was free to be exactly who I wanted to be, who I had been trying to be since I entered adolescence. After college comes the freedom to create yourself and create a life.
College isn’t the best years of your life because you’re in suspended animation. You’re free to think contrary to everything you’ve previously been told, to follow your every whim and indulge your every desire. But that kind of thinking and behavior cannot last and surely shouldn’t be romanticized as “the best” you’ll ever feel.
Is college better than trying your luck at demanding jobs and finding that you’re stronger, smarter and more capable than you ever thought you could be? Is college better than seeking out friends, lovers and acquaintances based on mutual respect and love, rather than convenience and drunken encounters? Is college better than building a life with one person who’ll be by your side throughout ever single difficult—and easy—event in your life?
Millennials are obsessed with scrutinizing and parsing the difficulties of adulthood. “Adulting” is a verb now, and because we’ve grown up coddled and cared for, and have thus far entered adulthood with no answers and basically as overgrown children, we think back to those college years and think that it’s all downhill from here. That kind of thinking will only result in constant disappointment, because nothing will ever measure up to our “glory days” as the pseudo-intellectual hedonists most of us were in college.
After college is when your life begins. Not ends. Romanticizing the past only makes certain you’ll never think you’re happy in the future. Calling college “the best years of your life” is only making you that much less equipped to deal with reality.
Making the most of something pleasurable isn’t all that difficult. Making the most of something that’s challenging—real life—is that much more satisfying and will give you far greater pleasure and longterm happiness than a million years spent in college.