“College…the best four years of your life” – a bizarre phrase uttered with regularity these days. It also happens to be a great indicator that the person voicing such an elementary thought should never be consulted for any life advice. In fact, whatever guidance they attempt to pass along, I urge you to do the opposite. Otherwise you'll find yourself on the road towards a humble, unfulfilling existence.
Let’s look at this rationally. If at age 23 the best years of your life are behind you, you fucked up tremendously.
Unfortunately far too many people are convinced that their best years were during this period. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways. For those who allow this to become their reality, it’s nothing short of a tragedy – albeit self-inflicted. Although it’s not all that surprising when you consider that those who fall victim to this mindset aren’t typically ones to open their eyes and question the generic path they’re blindly fumbling down.
There’s less of a stigma surrounding those who can’t seem to let go of college in comparison to the high school clingers. We often think back to, and ridicule, the kids from high school who couldn’t quite let go; the ones who allowed their accomplishments and identity at 18 to become the pinnacle of their lives. But why is it that the college grad who returns to campus with regularity in attempts to relive the glory days and continues to post college pictures across social media as if it were yesterday, gets a free pass?
Perhaps the element of higher education serves as a guise, but clinging to the remnants of your identity at 22 is equally embarrassing.
For those who truly believe college was the best four years of their life, their rationale usually revolves around simplicity and fewer responsibilities. To these folks I say 1) tough shit and 2) learn to make decisions for yourself.
Life after college is only miserable if you follow the cookie-cutter path set in front of you.
You’re not obligated to work a stressful job doing something you hate, no matter how much it pays. If you’re good enough at something (typically the things you enjoy most and that bring you the most happiness), the money will be there. Quit playing it safe. You’re also not obligated to live outside of your means and take out a mortgage on a house twice the size of your needs. Nor are you obligated to get married immediately after graduation, settle down, and bring additional lives into this world. The list goes on…
The trouble is that most of us are never really forced to think for ourselves in the current system. Each step is laid out neatly before us. All we have to do is check the boxes. But the catch is that blindly following this path is quite often the recipe for boredom, unhappiness, and what can become a nightmare of complexity/responsibility if unprepared. Introspection proves the only way to combat this.
Introspection and sorting through the depths of your mind to consider your life, identity, and existence, can be one of the greatest challenges you face. It’s incredibly difficult and exhausting to sit and think about yourself. It’s not an easy process and it takes years to work through the initial gray area. The benefit of doing so is defining a unique identity, greater self-awareness, and discovering the things in this world that make you feel most alive. These cannot and will not be found without periods of introspection, contemplation, meditation, call it what you will.
Without considering what makes you the person you are and the things you enjoy most in this world, you remain static. If you’re incapable of moving forward, it should be no surprise that the best years of your life will always be behind you.
As you grow older, you should constantly be learning more about yourself and the surrounding world. Time offers an opportunity to accumulate knowledge and pursue new experiences. It’s not irrational to assume every subsequent year should be the most enjoyable of your life. You should know yourself better than the previous year and be able to put yourself in situations that generate greater satisfaction.
We should all allow ourselves time to explore our innate curiosity for the surrounding world and our identities. The end of formal education isn’t an excuse to stop learning. When it’s all said and done, college should only be another four great years, among a long list.
It’s the impermanence of your identity and experiences that make these moments so precious. Recreating a past experience never proves feasible, as there were far too many variables beyond your control. Rather than strangling the life from your memories, appreciate them for what they were and leverage that insight moving forward. Above all, never corner yourself into a situation where the best years of your life have already passed you by. Especially at 23.