Last week I flew out on a cloudy, rainy, windy day. As we taxied on the runway, raindrops skimmed down the windows. The turbulence on the way up was fairly severe, and the woman next to me, who I never met, grabbed my arm and buried her head in my shoulder. Awkward? Absolutely. But after a few minutes we burst through the clouds into blue skies. It was amazing. Bright, warm sunshine came beaming through the windows. My new friend looked out, smiled, and then looked back at me and said, “Thank you. I’m sorry. I hate flying.” “No problem,” I replied. “Happy to help.”
I’ve had this experience before (not the stranger on the shoulder thing, but the bursting through the clouds part), and I truly love it. It’s uplifting and inspiring. There’s something magical and empowering in leaving behind rough weather and cruising into the clear, open sky.
No matter how old you are, we all have our fears, our day-to-day problems, and our nagging concerns. Some people may hide these fears well, but deep down we’re all anxious or uncertain or stressed on some level. Maybe it’s an upcoming exam or a turbulent relationship. Maybe it’s a big decision or a financial burden. And let’s be honest, in the past year in our nation, there are both micro and macro issues that have been disheartening and deeply disconcerting.
If you are a senior about to go off to college, I want to urge you now to think about your “above the clouds” moments and the people and experiences that give you life and encouragement, because you’re definitely going to have some gray days in the first year of college. (I know, I know… This blog started out so positive. Don’t worry, we’ll get back there.)
Here’s the thing: Starting a new life at college is a big deal. I know to this point it’s mostly been about where to apply, where you got in, and ultimately, where to go. But in a post-May 1 world, it’s now about getting ready.
Sure, some of “getting ready” is labeling your clothing and doing a few practice runs in the laundry room. I’m not discounting that as important and worthwhile. Definitely check the bed lengths for appropriate sheet sizes. Keep reading, do a few math problems, read the emails your new college sends and then DO WHAT THEY SAY.
But this summer is also a time to consider self-care. I’ll admit that I’m not the master here. I don’t sleep enough. I drink too much coffee. My stretching is inconsistent and sometimes I wear the same pair of boxers or socks two days in a row. But that clunky, imperfect, messy daily life is inevitable. We all fall into patterns and make mistakes and battle against the wind and rain and clouds of daily life. And that’s why you should think now about where you get your energy. What fills your cup? Who makes you laugh or encourages or inspires you?
Find Your Place
Throughout high school you may not ever have really thought about this, because those familiar places in your house, neighborhood, and hometown have always been there.
I like high places. They give me perspective. In high school, there was a Waffle House right by the highway near my house. You could take a trail from behind the restaurant to a cliff overlooking the interstate. A friend and I would sit up there for hours talking, watching cars, and just thinking about life. It was healthy and refreshing (admittedly, slightly dangerous, but as a 17-year old boy those traits are often intertwined).
In college I found a few campus rooftops (primarily all open to public) where I’d study or go to talk with a friend or simply sit on tough days. Take some time this summer to reflect on where you go to find similar refreshment, whether that be mentally and figuratively (a movie or a book) or literally a physical place. And then look for those spaces and places this fall on campus.
Find Your Person
If you are dating someone or have a long-time best friend, you likely have some cheesy things you say to one another. This will continue in your life, and it’s healthy. It conveys intimacy and trust and something that’s unique and special to that relationship. It’s indicative of time spent and a reliance that we all need. My wife and I, in tough times (and often when we’re coming out of a difficult period) will say, “You are my person.” Sounds funny as I write and read that, but in the moment those four words somehow convey a million thoughts and emotions.
Who is your person? Who is it that gives you energy; checks in on you; asks you good questions; doesn’t allow apathy or self-pity? Who walks into a room and gives you a smile or a look and helps you rise above the clouds? First, if you have not already, tell them (whether it’s a parent or a sibling or good friend or teammate). And, before you call it a career in high school, a few teachers, counselors, coaches and others could probably use a head nod, fist bump, or anonymous note too.
Second, give some thought to what makes that person so special and unique. Look, I’m not saying you’re going to replicate that relationship in your first semester at college. Odds are you won’t and can’t. But understanding why “your person” is “your person” is a good place to start, so you’ll recognize it when you see it.
Freshman year is exciting. It’s a new start with tons of opportunities and experiences. New relationships, new professors and classmates, a new town, a new schedule. But what will not change are the moments of self-doubt, the uncertainty within relationships, the anxiety and pressure of academics, and the cloud-filled days where you can’t even identify the source of the problem. I hope you’ll use the summer to find YOUR place and YOUR person so that YOU are ready and can see and feel the sun when you most need it.
If you would like to subscribe to receive blog entries when they post, please enter your email address (above) and click “subscribe.” We also welcome comments and feedback @gtadmission on Twitter.