For my two beautiful twin cousins headed off to college.
Dear Beautiful Pre-College You,
DO NOT SKIP THE SHOWER SHOES.
I saw a girl just like you the other day, scanning her list as her mom pushed her overflowing cart down the back-to-school college essentials aisle at Target. “I still need a fan…and do you think I really need shower shoes?”
Do not be this girl. YOU NEED THE SHOWER SHOES. You can thank me later…
Oh, how I remember the excitement. Piling high all my dorm room bins and shower caddies in my parent’s living room. It’s the time in life when you never have enough Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons. I made lists and color coordinated and always thought of something I couldn’t live without, blissfully unaware of the inability to fit any human’s life into the inhumane square footage of a dorm.
And I also remember the taste of fear. It literally does something wild in your mouth, your throat, and your heart. You look at your mom picking out shower shoes, and right there in the middle of Target, it hits you: She’s not coming with you to college.
The goodbyes go on for weeks, everyone loading up the minivans and SUVs on scattered days in August. Some goodbyes hurt deeper than others. When they say, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later,” please know that in that moment, they really mean it. But it just can’t stick.
You pull out of that driveway of your childhood home as one person, and you come back another. Change, once your dreaded ugly step-sister, will have to become something more beloved. Because if it doesn’t, she’ll just trample over you and leave you home scrubbing floors while she goes off to the ball.
I have so many things I want to talk to you about that it keeps me up at night making a list. I know I can’t possibly tell you everything or give you every warning. Some things you’ll have to figure out on your own.
But I stumbled down a few dark paths that I regret – bad enough that I want to show up for you with a ROAD CLOSED sign, or at least just come give you a hug. Or rainbow sprinkles. I believe rainbow sprinkles change lives, or at least just let you see beautiful colors of hope with each lick of that cone.
We’re all on this lifelong journey to discover joy and purpose. We all experience these universal longings – things that we all desire to pursue – regardless of who or where we are. I think these longings are exactly what I want to talk to you about.
Because when you move away to college, that’s when these longings truly begin:
1. THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.
Over time, when you click your red sparkly heels, you’ll close your eyes and your vision of HOME will seem blurry. Sometimes it’s disorienting. You’ll change rooms every year, or almost every semester like in my case.
So what I want to tell you is to look for the people who feel like home.
You’ll recognize them, I promise. They’re the ones who you’ll prop your dorm room door open for just to hear them walk by so you can pretend you’re leaving at exactly the same time. “Oh, hey! Where are you headed?” They’re the ones who will ask you if you want to go to the gym at 7 am, and you’ll want to be friends with them so badly that suddenly YOU’RE A MORNING PERSON!!!
They’re the ones who eventually text you to hang out and it doesn’t feel like work to say yes. You’ll reply instantly, roll up in your sweats, and just plop on their bed. They’re the ones who just instantly know you.
They become your new home. Home isn’t always a place, you see. You’ll feel it deep inside as soon as you find them. Don’t settle and don’t lose hope.
Your home is out there. You’ll find that missing person who can paint your left hand.
2. WILL YOU BE MINE, OH VALENTINE?
The longing for love. This one’s a whopper for the college days. I could write you a whole letter just on love.
Welcome to life without parental supervision. If you’ve ever heard a song on the radio and then felt shock when you accidentally bought the “PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED” version – this is college.
On my freshmen year move-in day, my new roommate bumped her armoire and accidentally showered my parents with a Costco-size box of condoms. GREETINGS! WELCOME TO COLLEGE!
Several of my roommates had serious boyfriends who became a third roommate. Believe me, it’s shocking at first. And then you’ll get sick of playing the third wheel and you’ll wonder what you’re missing. You’ll feel alone and incomplete without your own fourth roommate.
Look, there’s a reason they allow only goldfish as pets in the dorm rooms. Trust me, you don’t need any breed of dog to keep you warm at night.
These longing-for-love moments make me wish I could show up with a ROAD CLOSED. ROAD ETERNALLY CLOSED! sign.
I’m afraid you’ll have to figure this one out on your own. I guess we all do. When in doubt, just go to bed. Good things never happen in the bewitching hours of late-night pizza deliveries.
If you do decide to try to conquer the dark, call me. Call me right away. Your worth is not defined by a frat guy learning to hold his liquor.
The world will tell you to live it up and just go after any instant pleasure in your good ol’ college days. Just know that you are worth so much more – infinitely more – than some cheap advice found in a fortune cookie.
Remember, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Know it. Respect it. And never let anyone take that from you.
Which brings me to our next longing…
3. FIX THIS BROKEN HEART. MAKE ME WHOLE.
College is a beautiful time to figure out what makes you tick. With every new class, new friend, new experience, you’ll discover every new corner and layer of your precious heart. The goal is to graduate with a better sense of what makes up your whole heart.
But sometimes this desire for wholeness can take us to dangerous extremes.
It starts on the playground and then I don’t think it ever goes away: We all want to belong.
You’ll go to radical extremes to feel like you belong. It’s not all necessarily a bad thing. For instance, you might hear about a cheese club at the student involvement fair, and then you’ll think, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to eat cheese and find people who like to eat cheese.” So you’ll sign up and you’ll show up and you’ll eat cheese.
And then that cheese club just might not feel like enough.
For me, my college involvement started out completely wholesome. Then I needed more. I needed to belong in a deeper way. So I joined a sorority.
This isn’t a letter to convince you to never rush a sorority. I learned a lot about some mysterious corners of my heart through the experience. But this is a letter to caution you about heartbreak and what you think will make your heart whole.
Today, in my post-college days, I don’t wear my sorority letters. It’s not on my resume. I usually don’t talk to people about it until they know more about me.
What I’m trying to say is that for a period of time, they were my tribe. They were my people. I felt like I belonged deeply. And then it ended. We can talk more about that shocking transition in years to come. Just know that what feels like the answer to every cry to belong, it just can’t stick.
My best advice is to try a lot of new clubs and meet a lot of new people and sign up for a lot of new classes that will illuminate every little corner and layer of your heart. One tribe will never make your whole heart beat.
4. I DON’T WANNA GROW UP, I’M A TOYS R US KID.
You know the cliche saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” This is childhood.
I wish I could say it in a less cliche way, but it’s just so true. You don’t cherish days of catching lightening bugs and building tree forts until they disappear. You’re too young to even put words to the joy of summer days with bare feet and absolutely no sense of time.
And then, when you are old enough for words, you look around for a lost friend. And you ache deeply. Because those days are gone. We all want those youthful times back so desperately.
So we have to try to adult in the most innocent ways. We have to eat popsicles and ask for extra rainbow sprinkles. We have to find the stars and dive off the diving board.
In college, we have to stay up late and stay home “sick” to watch re-runs. We have to walk around a campus blanketed in snow and make snow angels. We have to love the sparkly notebooks and roll down the hill.
We have to, we have to, we have to.
Because if we don’t, that’s it. We’ll never get it back. We’ll never find a bottled childhood to take home and relive “the days.”
The abrupt shove into the real world comes fast enough without you trying. Don’t take every 9-5 internship. Don’t wish for the days of carrying a briefcase. Let yourself be a Toys R Us kid for just a little longer.
You’ll probably forget a lot on your college shopping list. You’ll see how other people organized and you’ll have to make a last minute run to Target with your mom to pick up that thing you can’t live without.
And when your mom drops you off at college, but then stays for that last minute run to Target…just remember she’s not ready to let you go. She’s trying to let go. But it’s not easy on anyone.
Really, you don’t need that last minute run. You have everything you need. Oh, sweet and beautiful, You. You have everything you need.
Holding you close,