With age comes wisdom. Speaking for those of us who barely remember college, I will tell you that the older we get the less we envy the freshman class.
With age also comes benevolence. In the 1960s the mantra on campus was: Don’t trust anyone over thirty.
Of course, the 1960s counterculture got it ass-backwards. In truth, you should not trust anyone under thirty.
To a twentysomething you look like the competition. Besides, the under thirty cohort has really not lived long enough to know very much that will really be useful to you.
If you need advice and counsel, don’t rely on your peers or on those who are recent college grads. If you do you will discover what happens when the blind lead the blind.
Freshman year is more of a predicament than a challenge. At least, it feels that way at first. And it will feel that way for quite some time.
Being a freshman you are too old to be told what to do and too young to take advice.
That is a real problem.
When someone older and wiser tries to offer advice, you will feel like you are being told what to do. And that will make you feel like you are being disrespected.
However newly-minted, you are an adult and you want to be treated with all of the respect that accords with that status. This makes you especially sensitive to any comment, remark, or look that makes you feel like a child.
A month or so ago you were living with your parents. You were dependent on them; you had to follow their rules; you had to ask permission; you had to tell them where you were going and when you were coming home; you had to do as you were told.
You were a senior in high school and you felt like you were being treated like a child. You felt oppressed.
Arriving on campus, you start breathing the fall air. It feels like freedom.
For the first time in your short life you feel independent and autonomous. You certainly do not want to create a dependent relationship with a dean or a professor or an advisor.
Bristling with optimism, you are looking forward to making your own mistakes.
You have learned that the best way to learn how to conduct your life is by making and correcting your own mistakes.
That means that you should only make mistakes that are correctable. You aren’t going to jump into an empty swimming pool in order to learn firsthand that it’s a bad thing to do.
Make sure, when you are making a childish mistake, that you can walk it back.
Try to avoid the trap of thinking that you can make independent and autonomous decisions.
If you take it to the limit, you will discover that the choices that feel inalienably yours are probably so dumb that no one with an ounce of sense would ever have recommended them.
However much you learn by making your own mistakes and by escaping adult influence, you will do better to set yourself the goal of learning how to take advice.
How do you learn how to take advice? By taking advice, of course.
How do you know whose advice to take? By collecting different kinds of advice from different people, and then comparing them?
When an adult faces a dilemma he collects advice from different sources and then decides among the alternatives. If he is smart he will do this at the beginning of his career through his mentors. If he is really smart he will do this when, as CEO, he is facing a difficult decision.
Once you choose which piece of advice to follow, implement it and examine the results. If you pay close attention reality will be happy to tell you whether you got it right.
As a college freshman you are the object of an extraordinary amount of psychological speculation. In the old days your anguish would have been called an identity crisis. Today, you have been labeled emerging adults.
In the not-too-distant past people your age would have been out fighting wars, starting families, working the fields, or beginning apprenticeships.
You are learning all about medieval madrigals and tailgating.
In the old days you would have remained part of your birth community. The course of your life would have been planned out for you in advance.
Thereby, you would have avoided the social trauma of going away to college.
Let's be clear: going off to college is a trauma. You have been uprooted, moved from a world where everything was familiar to a world where everything is strange.
You have been sent away from a world where you know the rules and the players to a world where you are not even sure that you know the game.
You have gone from being the king or queen of the high school to being the lowest member of the totem pole.
If you do not feel somewhat lost, you are out of touch with reality.
It’s normal to feel lost, but it’s not normal to spend your college years trying to find yourself.
You are not in college to discover your heart’s desire, your true passion, or your bliss. You are not there to get in touch with your spirit.
You are there to find out what you are good at and to gain a sufficient appreciation of the real world to translate your skills into a rewarding career.
And you are there to develop some new social skills.
The best and quickest way to overcome your feelings of dislocation and disconnection is to become a joiner. It’s a lot better than hooking up.
Don’t join every group or club that is out there but do join something. Whether it is a fraternity or a sorority, an intramural sports team or the band, the student newspaper or the radio station, the French club or a religious group you would do well to join a group.
The best way to overcome feelings of not belonging is to find places where you belong.