Before college, I was told these next four years would be the best of my life. Going in, I knew this was not a guarantee. Still, after graduating from high school, I was ready to embark on the next leg of my journey and finally experience this pivotal part of young adulthood I had heard so much about.
However exciting or empowering this “best years of your life” statement was supposed to be, my inherently anxious brain immediately turned making the most of my college experience into a task I had to complete. Social media only added to that anxiety. I constantly saw posts of others’ college experiences and heard stories from my parents and family friends about their college experiences.
Everyone told me that the college years were going to be the ‘best years of my life’
I saw posts and heard stories warning me to soak it up now because: “You will never get to live carefree with all of my best friends again.” This sentiment does not encourage growth but creates fear about graduating high school and what comes next.
I became scared for college to end because I wasn’t sure I was ready to take on the burdens of financial stress, job stress, and all that comes with “adulting.” The idea that your college years are the best of your life comes with the assumption that after peaking at 22, the rest of your life is downhill, which is deeply discouraging and incredibly untrue.
We need to change the messaging around college years
We need to dismantle this messaging and reshape it. College is supposed to be a time of growth, and I have had a wonderful last three years at Smith. Was it everything I expected when I imagined college as a child? Of course not.
Has it been an impactful experience from which I have learned tremendously? Absolutely. I have had incredible classes where I have learned invaluable information and met wonderful friends with whom I hope to have lifelong bonds.
While I have had a positive college experience, I hope these are not my life’s best years. I hope to get to “live carefree with all of my best friends” post-graduation, and maybe after that, my priorities and goals will change, as they tend to do. Or maybe not; Monica and Rachel lived together for ten years, right?
Telling us that these are the best days of our lives adds tremendous pressure
Either way, perhaps by removing the label and its associated pressure of the “best years of my life,” I can better enjoy this unique time without needing to make the most out of every second until the clock runs out and it’s all downhill.
I don’t know what the solution is. This sounds cliche, but perhaps we should simply try to live in the moment. I am trying to learn how to do this myself. Worrying that my college experience will end without me having accomplished everything I arbitrarily think I “should” have done has a paradoxical effect; it turns carefree years into stressful ones.
I recently put up a message for myself on my door that says, “You have time.” It feels a little silly (I am not usually an affirmation post-notes person, though I aspire to be), but it’s an excellent reminder to slow down and enjoy it. Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but perhaps it will help me.
I hope to look back at my time at Smith not as the best years of my life but as fun, formative years that will give me the needed tools for the next step. I will use the skills I learned for even more formative years post-graduation — I have time. And who knows, maybe I will “live carefree with all of my best friends” in a senior living facility one day.
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Phoebe Rak is a Senior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, from the San Francisco Bay Area. Phoebe is majoring in Government and Psychology and is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sophian, Smith’s student newspaper. After graduating, Phoebe hopes to attend law school and work in criminal justice. She is passionate about writing and politics and loves reading and watching sitcoms.