I remember around high school graduation when people casually mentioned that my college years would be the “best years of my life.”
Scribbled beneath Hallmark wishes of “Congratulations!” and “You did it!” on my grad cards were handwritten cursive words sprawled out to form: “Make the most of your college days, these are the best days of your life.”
At the time, I didn't think twice about these comments, as I was excited to start this new stage of life too. I hugged my relatives goodbye, and I cheered on my friends as they packed their rooms up in to cardboard boxes.
Together, we counted down the last days of summer, anxiously awaiting freshman move-in day and orientation. It didn't cross my mind that college might not be for me. I didn't realize that in a matter of months, I would be the girl feeling lonely and stuck, counting down the days until graduation.
All in all, I clearly didn't love college.
I mean, let's be honest: A lot of the time, I didn't even like college. I cried when I said goodbye to my parents, and then I cried again the first night of college when I was suddenly alone and by myself.
Unfortunately, though, I tried to make it through, after two and a half years I could no longer deal with the anxiety school was causing, and I ended up transferring.
But even my decision to transfer was stressful, I remember thinking I should toughen up. I mean really, why wasn't I loving school like everyone else? Was I wasting the “best years of my life?” Was I just a caterpillar, stuck in my cocoon for all of eternity?
Although I didn't see it at the time (and it's hard for me to even admit now), these college years were still transforming. They were still life-changing, just not necessarily in the ways I had expected. I struggled through some truly emotionally tough times. A lot happened that I was not prepared for.
There were long, anxiety filled sleepless nights. There were many moments during which I wanted to drop out altogether. But in retrospect, I changed in college.
I mean, I basically grew up in those four years, in a very real way. Some of this growth was accompanied by stress and tears. But in some of the most memorable moments, good and bad, I surprised myself. I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was. I learned to count on myself and to carry on.
But even now, those same people who scribbled the notes in my cards, or told me all of the wonderful, beautiful moments that college would have in store for me, now tell me that “the best years are yet to come.”
Do they truly believe this, or are they just pitying me? Are they just saying this because they knew of my struggles?
I scroll through Instagram and Facebook and am still bombarded with inspirational messages and mantras claiming that the best years are STILL yet to come. Are we always just waiting for these best years?
Are the best times over, or am I supposed to wait patiently for them?
You would think hearing that the best years are yet to come would make me happy and maybe even get me a little excited. But honestly, it just makes me nervous. Why do we have to keep holding out for the best years? I want to be able to just appreciate where I am now, without holding my life to a set of standards.
I don't want to waste valuable time waiting it for something better, without expressing gratitude for what is right in front of me. I don't want to keep thinking about my life in terms of only waiting or passing by the good times.
The thing is, we have no idea what's going to happen or how things are going to wind up. In college we may meet our significant other that we wind up marrying, or we may date someone for all four years then realize it was just a college relationship; it worked while we were there, but now it's just an illusion.
Or during college, someone we love may die. When someone we love dies, how can the best days of life still be ahead of us? How can the best years still come without them?
I think it's up to us to make the most of what we have. We don't always know what is going to happen; we can't always control which moments or years are going to be the best. I believe that each year holds some wonderful times, and some very low times. And I think this is OK. We can accept life for what it is without labeling it as the "best times" or the "worst times." Because of this, we can learn to value our time for what it is and see the good in situations, while not panicking so much if things don't go as planned or as expected.
Sure, maybe you're in college now, or you are out of college, and you do associate these college years with the most carefree, spectacular, days of your life.
Maybe you went out every night, partied all the time, spent most of your years drunk, narrowly made it through your classes and loved every single second of it. Maybe this was your version of perfect; this was happiness.
Or, maybe you studied 24/7, were a member of academic clubs and honor societies, aced college with a 4.0 and loved college deep down to the roots. But you know what? Maybe you were neither of these.
Or maybe you lingered somewhere in between, and you, too, loved college. Or maybe you were neither of these and you hated college with a passion.
Either way, you don't need to over-analyze it and you don't need to worry about it. If you loved it, that's seriously wonderful. You will have more experiences that you love. And if you did just tolerate it? Or, if college really wasn't for you? You too will still have times now and in the future that you love.
You see, we each have our phases of life that have their ups and downs, their highs and lows. Loving or hating one part of life doesn't create some sort of destiny or fate with regards to the rest of your life.
It's OK if your college days weren't the best days of your life. And it's also OK if they were (…thus far) the best years of your life. This doesn't mean the best times are over, it just means one of the great parts of your life is through, but many more are yet to come.
We will have an infinite number of best days. So just keep your eyes open, and understand that the good times will always roll around again.