College is a chapter in life where you learn a lot more than just lessons taught in the classroom. You learn about yourself, your mind, and your body, like how you’re capable of an all-nighter on Thursday, then come Friday, you’re ready to take tequila shots like a champ. But with time comes wisdom — just because you can doesn’t mean you should. As I reflect on my college experience, the more I think about the important lessons I’ve learned. Here are five lessons I learned in college that I’m taking with me into my 20s.
- Discomfort can be an indication of growth
Looking back on my first year of college, I remember the first semester being pretty difficult. I was living miles away from home for the first time, and I didn’t know anyone, making for a lonely experience, at times. I’ve always been a little anxious in social situations, but I knew if I wanted a promising fresh start, I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
During college, I began doing things I never would have considered years prior, like initiating conversations with strangers and saying yes to every invitation, whether it was dinner plans, hang-outs, or a party. I also went in headfirst and joined clubs on campus. Most importantly, I allowed myself to take up space, which was uncomfortable at first, but ultimately, became freeing.
Of course, things didn’t always go the way I planned. For example, some of the clubs I joined didn’t work out for me — like when I joined a film club and discovered that I didn’t “click” with all the people or get invited places, which felt pretty devastating.
Vulnerability is not a graceful, easy-flowing process, and rejection is always a possibility. But discomfort can also be a strong indication that you’re growing and that things are about to change for you for the better. Life is full of new beginnings, and it’s important to remember that while it won’t always be smooth sailing, that doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Trust your gut! You will know deep down if you are in the right place, so take a breath and keep trying to find your people. If something feels inherently bad or damaging to your mental health, consider an alternative course. Ultimately, you know what you need — listen to your intuition.
- “Alone” is not synonymous with “lonely”
The first few months of college weren’t the easiest time for me, but I never stopped putting myself out there. A few months in, I realized important lessons: that being with others isn’t necessarily the opposite of loneliness, being alone isn’t always a bad thing, and I learned to value my own company, which was incredibly empowering.
Some of my fondest memories of college are of my walks across campus listening to music by myself. Eventually, I stopped caring what other people may have thought about me being on my own. For example, I ate in crowded dining halls alone without fear of judgment. I began to set boundaries and standards for who I let into my life. I stopped indulging in one-way friendships, and I realized that I should only invest my time in people invested in me.
Life has its ups and downs, and there will be seasons where we may not have a huge support system. Going from college, where all your friends live in the same town, to post-grad life where you either moved back home or to a new city, it’s not uncommon to spend more time alone. It’s important to remember to be your own advocate and note the value of your own company.
- Learn how to take risks (and deal with rejection!)
I’ve never been the biggest fan of gambling or taking risks (what can I say? I’m a Virgo). I analyze everything and tend to choose the safest course of action. However, I learned that if you want something, you’re going to have to take a risk at some point.
I remember learning this valuable lesson when I decided to run for a leadership position at my college radio station. I gave a speech to the organization’s general body, hands trembling and voice shaking ever so slightly. I was up against two other candidates, and I wasn’t fully convinced I had won, although I was relieved and proud of myself for trying. But in the end, I won them over, and I met some of the best people I’ve ever known as a result.
However, taking risks didn’t always go in my favor. When I was seeking a campus job, I didn’t get the first one I interviewed for. Of course, failure can be disheartening, but I learned how to take rejection in my stride.
It’s important to maintain this outlook of “trial and error” throughout your twenties and life in general —in a way, it liberates you to try new things, from professional goals to relationships. Failure is a part of the human experience. And more than that, you can always try again.
- Everyone is moving through life at their own pace
In your 20s especially, there’s often an idea that there’s an age limit for experiencing certain things in life — whether it’s getting your being in a committed relationship or hitting certain milestones. This is a social construct, and it’s important to know that not fulfilling these expectations doesn’t make you abnormal! From getting older and constantly witnessing our friends’ lives on social media, it’s easy to forget that we’re all moving through life at our own pace.
When I got to college, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt like they needed to have a bunch of boxes checked off in life. The truth is, life is not a race to check off experiences on some nonexistent list. A word of advice: do things when you are ready.
- ‘Found family’ can be powerful
“Found family” is a group of mostly unrelated people who form a bond based on shared experiences and understanding. I didn’t really understand the meaning behind the term until I went to college and started referring to it as “home.” For the first time in my life, I got to choose who I lived with and spend time with friends who complemented me.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about “found family” is that there are no built-in expectations. You have to put in effort and love intentionally, which can make your bond so much deeper. With time, you may grow just as close or even closer to these people than your actual family! Know that your friendships may evolve — both in college and during your 20s — but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to create strong bonds with others.
As I maneuver my 20s, I’m constantly reflecting and reapplying the important lessons I learned in college. The truth is, your 20s won’t always be the easiest time, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself in ways that aren’t always comfortable. However, try to remember that you’re most likely more prepared for this season than you give yourself credit for!