A Letter to That Broke College Kid (We Know)

I completed my freshman year of college with $8.31 to my name. I don’t mean the kind of $8.31 you find in the bottom of your purse left over from that twenty you broke at the bar, or $8.31 in your checking account with thousands stored away in savings. I’m talking $8.31 between checking and savings combined. The whole shebang. While this may be extremely disconcerting to some, I find it slightly entertaining.

See the thing is, I am lucky enough to have parents who are able to pay for my education. Yes, my parents pay for my tuition, my housing, all of the necessities and I love them dearly for that. They even warned me against taking a job first semester, “It’s too much too fast and has the potential to backfire.” However, being the oldest of three, I have always felt some degree of pressure to essentially have my sh*t together- this comes from within myself more so than anyone else. I pride myself on independence.

Let me tell you a story about my first semester in college. I joined a sorority. I took 16 credit hours. I also wanted to play intermural soccer, DJ for the campus radio and join the African drumming club. I guess I wanted to be wonder woman. I was a naïve overzealous 18 year-old who had reached a whole new level of autonomy. And as an independent college student, I also needed to make my own money. So, in opposition to my parents’ advice I became the new Desk Assistant in Lewis Residence Hall. For a while I was feeling pretty great, even though I was assigned to the midnight to 3 a.m. shift. I was making money, I was meeting new people; it was never a dull moment!

But then something happened. I became exhausted. With all these new people I was meeting, I didn't have time to get to know them because my whole day was booked. These “never dull” moments quickly became moments of realization that there was no time to breath. In the short break between classes, meetings and work, I would grab lunch with my friends, listening to their stories of hammocking at Potter Lake in between classes. I was somewhat jealous of their ability to relax and just have fun- but I was still too distracted by my long to-do list to recognize that. Soon enough, I realized my lymph nodes were the size of large grapes. Definitely mono. But did I have time to get to the health center in the next week? Not quite. So there I was at 1:48 in the morning, struggling to remain conscious at my desk job. I blinked and all of a sudden it was 2:23. It took every ounce of my physical strength to even keep my eyes open. I don’t think it was until that moment that I realized I was a smidge in over my head.

As we all know, college is full of contradictions. Spend your time working hard and preparing for the real world while simultaneously living it up and enjoying your last few years of complete freedom. Better yet, do both! Take rigorous courses and excel in them but spend as much time as possible with friends. Find the love of your life, work out, make money. In your spare time, please consider how competitive the job market is that awaits us. If we want to make it out alive, we must prepare ourselves as thoroughly as possible by being our best version of self in every arena. This kind of pressure hinders many from straying too far from the straight shot path of success.

While college should prepare you for “real life”, it is just as important to make the most of these vibrant years. We do not yet have mortgages, 40 hour per week jobs, or little lives running around, calling us mom and dad. Though this is a lot harder than it sounds, sometimes we need to learn to say no to our responsibilities and yes to opportunities. I believe our experiences make us rich. I know for a fact that the nights I’ll remember are the nights my roommates and I spontaneously dyed our hair red and pink at 11:30 on a Tuesday night, listening to Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé so loud it pissed off the room down the hall. Or how we have perfected the route from our house to Chipoltle to TCBY and back that I could probably do it in my sleep. Food runs, concerts, dollar nights, and road trips- these are what your college years are comprised of. The nights I laughed until I cried (or peed I mean lets be honest) and spent time with people who I know will be there for me in 40+ years are far more valuable than the nights I made a couple extra bucks.

My hope is not to convey the idea that you should avoid responsibilities and blow all your money. Whether you’re too quick to assume the obligations of the real world, or too slow to jump on board, there are consequences. You sacrifice money for experience or vice versa. Both are harmful, but one tends to get lost among the millions of loud messages we receive each day urging us to do more and more. Experience, adventure and curiosity make us who we are. Money can’t buy these things. So it is important we don't neglect simply just living- finding a happy medium in this transition between holding onto the stability of parental assistance yet acquiring the skills and knowledge to take us into our adult lives. The pressure to be perfect in college is undeniable. But for many of us this just isn't possible right now... and I’m here to say that life goes on. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s what college is about too, right? In fact, that’s what life is about once we step outside of our sheltered bubble. Someday we will be those established 30 somethings that we all had hoped to be by 20 something, but until then I’ll be busy living.

P.S. For those of you still stuck on the idea of surviving on only $8.31, I did eventually make my money back that following summer as nanny. However August rolled around and I blew a good chunk of it at Lollapalooza. I had a damn good time, and wouldn't change a thing.

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