Monday, September 13, 2010

Seven Dumb Things I Did and Didn't Do Freshman Year of College

My niece has begun her freshman year of college, so every few days I scan her Facebook page for recent news. Finally the first photograph is posted. She's standing arm in arm with six new girlfriends, excited, happy, hopeful. It's titled, with supersized conviction, “WE ARE...”

That was me, I think to myself. And then, before I know it, I'm Monday morning quarterbacking my own freshman year 32 years ago.

Hindsight is like that. It thumps you on the head after you've messed up and can't do anything about it—except, of course, to try to not repeat the same mistakes and, if possible, to pass it on. Like a road, experience begs to be shared.

And so, what follows below is for all college freshmen. They'll know whether they can apply it to their lives, now that they're traveling the same road I did.

After all, WE ARE...each on our own individual journeys, with our own lessons to learn.

1. I gave a part of myself away for a friend. She was already in a sorority, so I pledged hers instead of the one I wanted. I was afraid if I didn't our relationship would suffer. And it might have, but a true friend wants me to do what's best for me.

Fortunately, it was and is a great sorority. My favorite actress is even a sister, as is an amazing U.S. First Lady. But still I wonder what might have been had I followed my heart, not fear.

2. I didn't have the courage to be honest. I agreed to a date with a guy I didn't want to go out with and then phoned him to cancel it. Worse, because our conversation was growing long, I began unscrewing the mouthpiece on the receiver to create interference on the line. Then I hung up, hoping he'd assume I had telephone issues, instead of a wussy personality. No surprise, he never called back.

3. I ate to ease boredom or tension, even when I wasn't hungry—or skipped meals altogether--ignoring my body's innate rhythm. Eventually it became a habit, and by the time I graduated I'd forgotten how to eat naturally and healthfully. It was years before I finally learned to trust and follow my instinct again.

4. For fun I tried smoking, but got hooked. I quit 10 years later when I got asthma. I was luckier than my father; he died of emphysema.

5. I didn't keep in touch with my old friends and eventually lost contact completely. Thanks to Facebook, I've begun renewing some of those friendships. But I've missed out on sharing so many weddings, births and more, which I wish I hadn't.

6. I parroted other people's ideas instead of forming my own. I even skipped classes, as well as the assigned books, and memorized Cliff Notes. If it hadn't been for a professor early in my sophomore year, I might have continued on that path. But she didn't want her students to repeat by rote what others thought; she wanted to know what we thought. She cared about our opinions, what we actually believed, and it changed me forever. It taught me the importance and value of questioning and challenging, forming my own ideas. Of staying teachable--even by those I don't particularly like--but also of making my own conclusions.  Ultimately, adopting another person's concepts without question reflects a lack of self-respect.

7. I judged a stranger's character by his (future) profession--and didn't choose a public place to meet for a first date. He came to my dorm after dark; we walked to a quiet spot on campus, sat down on the grass and began talking. One thing led to another and we were kissing. Before I knew it, I was sprawled out flat with him on top of me. No guy had ever moved that quickly before; I knew something was wrong. I told him I wasn't comfortable, and told him again, but he wouldn't listen. Finally I threatened to scream if he didn't get off me--which he did, thank God, and I never saw him again. But here's a scary thought: He was a medical student, studying to be an Ob/Gyn. Or so he said.