Advice to My Younger Sister: Five Life Lessons about College & Beyond

Dear Connie,

One of my New Year, New Me Resolutions is to be More Generous with my knowledge, instead of hoarding it like a sniveling garden gnome.

1) Enjoy college in the present moment, while preparing for life after graduation. The two are not mutually exclusive. If you don’t prepare for the future, big surprise, your future will suck; but if you don’t let yourself really live in the present, even when you get to your cushy future, you won’t have the skills to enjoy it.

Put your phone down when you eat. Linger when you hug your friends. Keep up your Headspace streak (cheat a little if you must.) Living well is an art form — and each moment is an invitation to practice.

2) Set aside one or two times a week specifically to call Mom and Dad. I was too “busy” to do this in school, as in, I didn’t make family a priority. Would you only go to the gym when you feel like it? No, then you’d be a bro who doesn’t even lift. Don’t be a daughter who doesn’t even daughter. Whenever you call Mom and Dad, it makes their day.

3) Be discerning when it comes to promoting the right friends into your inner circle.

In my closest friends, I look for: 1) work ethic, 2) intelligence/talent, and 3) empathy + loyalty. [1] Your criteria will be different, because you’re a different person from me, but do get clear about what you need from your confidantes. Think of yourself as the CEO of an important company. You don’t want to hire just anybody onto your board of advisers; you want to choose people who have proven themselves with a strong track record, who can each contribute unique and valuable insights.

To mix metaphors, think about the six Pokemon you’d want on your ideal team: you’d want variety, and you’d also want each Pokemon to be the best of its class. Collectively, your inner circle of friends will be an incredible asset on your journey through life.

4) Gaining self knowledge is like gaining any other type of knowledge, and should be approached with as much intention and seriousness as any of your academic courses.

I read somewhere that most people mess up the two biggest decisions of their lives — their choice of work, and their choice of partner — because they don’t know themselves. They’ve taken the path of least resistance, instead of putting in the hard work to figure out who they really want to be (and then doing what they must to get there).

As Toni Morrison put it, the process of becoming who you’re meant to be is not inevitable: “its achievement is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory.”

I want to add that the process of figuring out who you are — figuring out not only what you want, but, more importantly, what you need — is empirical. It cannot be approached theoretically. You have to actually get out there and try things (jobs, responsibilities, daily routines, approaches to your writing practice, relationships, lifestyles), and fail and fail and fail, and get up each time.

After every experience, you’ll have tested a hypothesis about yourself in the real world; hence, you can revise your map of who you know yourself to be. In the long run, it’s a small price to pay.

If you, like me, struggle with believing in yourself, try placing your faith in something bigger than just you (like your friends, community, or a higher power.) This process is, at its core, a spiritual one.

5) When you love yourself, you value yourself — you value your time, and you’ll spend it better. Whenever you feel self-pity, despair, or self-loathing, allow yourself a few moments to experience the entire life span of that emotion as it moves through your body, like a painful shit. Treasure the moments when you are happy or peaceful; as Thich Nhat Han points out, a non-toothache is a pleasant sensation.

Picture yourself as a little child, and picture me standing next to you, giving you a great big hug. Remember that I’m just a phone call away.

With all this being said, I don’t want you to work harder if it means you’re going to be unhappy. Hard work is important, but happiness is more importanter. Part of me wishes I could shield you from the evils of the world, but doing so would leave you anemic, and I don’t want that for you. We can’t avoid suffering and pain, but we don’t have to do this whole “growing up” thing by ourselves.

Courage. Resilience. Faith. We are in this together.

Love,

Emily

PS: Here are some extra credit readings.

1) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

2) The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

3) Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

4) The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

5) The Concise Mastery by Robert Greene

6) Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

7) Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

8) Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

9) Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

10) Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Han

[1] Some of these concepts about friendship come from Aristotle and Cicero. They argue that real friendship ought to be based on virtue, not pleasure or utility. I agree when it comes to your inner circle of friends, but you do need a healthy network of friendly acquaintances. Weak ties are important for getting connected to new information and opportunities.