This past week, I had the amazing honor of returning to Auburn University and speaking to my sorority – Phi Mu. It’s been more than 20 years since I was in their shoes. In 1994, I walked onto that campus so nervous yet so expectant.
I was leaving my home state of Georgia and a school where I felt almost popular and was starting fresh. Making a new name for myself. College is like that. You’re set free from parents, rules, your old self and it’s all new.
It was four of the best years of my life. And definitely marked me in some unique ways.
Here’s a few of the points that I shared with the current Phi Mus – and then some extra we didn’t get to. So, for moms of high school seniors or college kids – enjoy!
10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me in College
1. Stand Strong – In college you realize that so much of life is actually slippery. Not the firm foundation you had hoped for. Maybe your parents get a divorce or a best friend walks away or your boyfriend does. Maybe your lifetime of straight As isn’t happening or you struggle with weight or you aren’t the best athlete for the first time. Whatever your identity was – suddenly isn’t. And you realize you have to stand strong in something. For some of you – it’s always been your faith. And for some of you – you’re putting faith on the shelf and or having some questions. I get this. I’ll just caution you that there are very few things in life that are as sturdy and strong as Jesus Christ. Get around something foundational in the midst of shaky times. It’ll hold you center and strong. Find a church or ministry and get there regularly. I did not do this and I wish I had.
2. Few is Better than All – Looking back on those years – I remember how desperately (and probably still do) I wanted to fit in. Even in a sorority that give you automatic friends, you still want to belong. In a group. And if I’m honest – I like EVERYONE to like me. A lot. It bugs me when someone doesn’t like me. I have finally (ahem 20 years later) discovered – it is OK! to be liked and known and loved by a few great friends. Not everyone is YOUR style. You don’t have to love and gel with everyone. I think mutual respect and kindness should be the baseline for all – of course. And when we screw that up – a lot of grace and honesty and forgiveness goes a long way. Give yourself the permission to stop striving for popularity and be comfortable with a few great lifetime friends. Being known by all on campus or “liked” by thousands on social media really isn’t really fulfilling at all. It’s exhausting.
3. Be the Friend You Need – I know what’s like to feel down and have a list of things friends did that disappointed you. We’ve all been there and we’ve all honestly been the friend who messed up. I have a long list of ways I have hurt my friends. Somewhere along the way – I decided to try and just focus on the kind of friend I needed. Be that friend. And suddenly you’ll forget about what you need. You’ll enjoy the giving. You’ll be settled in that role and enjoy it so much – you’ll stop taking score. And the blessings will come. You’ll stop being “let down” so much. Go love on someone because it’s fun – not because you want something in return.
4. Realize the God-Sized Hole is Real – I was the queen over-achiever at Auburn. I realized pretty quick that I could work, charm and lead my way to the top of most things. I did all the things – Top 5 Homecoming, leadership in the sorority, Cater Society etc. Yet my hole felt empty as ever at the end of it. I realized I literally tried to fill my heart with everything but God. With achievements. With boys. With friends. So the things and the experiences aren’t bad – just don’t ever expect them to the fill the God-shaped hole in your heart. Only one thing will fill that up with a deep sense of love and belonging. I know it. I’ve learned it. Felt it.
5. Forgive Yourself and Get Going Again – So I lived in this tension at Auburn between knowing I was a “good girl” and what I should do to make my parents proud – yet having so much fun living the college life. I went out. I partied. I made mistakes. I had shame. I secretly loved it. I laughed. I had guilt. I waffled back and forth between this tension between guilt, shame, should’ve and could’ve and oh well. Imagine a girl with eyes cast down afraid to look up at a God who has loved her since she was little and had never stopped. You see, God was with me every moment of Auburn and never left. He was with me when I sobbed right after graduation realizing I missed out on walking with him. And I was ready to come back. Forgive yourself. Don’t go for perfect. Go for progress. Get up again and surround yourself with people that understand where you ultimately are headed. You can be a college kid and follow God. Both can exist. And don’t be “good” just to be loved. Be loved (you already are) and live out of the freedom of that. We get it all messed up and twisted. Find someone who understands grace and a legit real relationship with God and ask them about it. They will seem more free and relaxed then uptight and perfect.
6. Embrace Failure – I have a long long list of times I failed. Let’s start with the 1.7 I made the first quarter at Auburn. Every failure made me stronger. And bolder. And more confident. I slowly started to believe in myself in college. And see in myself what my parents always could see. That I was meant to do something bigger than myself. I started listening to this voice in my heart that was always the Holy Spirit – pulling me towards what felt “crazy” but was always Him. I started realizing leadership is really influence. And influence is really about using all of you – to change and help the world around you. So get back up and learn from everything. You have no idea how great it’s about to get. And that the secret sauce to life is making it all about others.
7. You’ll Only Pass This Way Once – One of many mentors (Regina Williams) told me this phrase – you’ll only pass this phase of life once. My only true regret is not studying abroad. HEAR ME young adorable people. You will not have spring break or summers off again in your lifetime. You will hopefully have a JOB very soon. Travel. Go see the world. You can do this. Get out there. Grab a friend and be brave and read a great fiction book. I did not – was too busy achieving and proving myself.
8. What’s It Like to Be on the Other Side of Me? My pastor and dear friend, Jeff Henderson, often asks this question – “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” How do people experience YOU? Now, some of your quirks and ways are just fun. “Be you” of course. But some things … might just need a change for the better. SO be honest with yourself. Don’t read this and go tell a friend. That’s rude. If you saw YOU walking down the street – what would you say? or see? What is your reputation? What does your Instagram reveal about you? Snapchat? Your future employers are likely reading and watching. Doesn’t mean to be buttoned up and a poser – be someone your not – but these four years are a blip and these images or moments may live on longer than you’d prefer. Like it or not – you will leave an impression on those you meet. 20 years later you will run into them at a tailgate or possibly business deal. Just be ready for that. 🙂 (And note this isn’t just an external thing like what you wear or potty mouth – it’s internal too. Over the years – I’ve had to reign in on learning how to listen more and making eye contact when people are talking vs just spewing words and then looking away. )
9. Wound Defense – Some of your harmless, college fun is simply that. Fun. Silly. And you won’t legit remember it. Some of the fun goes a little deeper. And like a fall or injury – it actually leaves a wound with a scar. Those falls? You remember. You have the story. I have some wounds from college. That definitely left a mark. I messed up in a way that it didn’t just fade into the stories of college – they’ve lasted 20 years in deep places of my heart. And especially girls – I am just begging you to consider this idea. As you imagine yourself as a wife and mom one day. To have the COURAGE to get up and walk out of a room or situation that’s headed toward a deep wound. To say no. To not care what any boy thinks of you. Because you will definitely care what your husband thinks of you. He is deeply interested in your life and your heart for decades.
10. Fly Girl Fly – My mom has always written me encouraging notes – and the basic gist is “fly baby fly.” When my mom drove away from Auburn, she hated to let me go. But she knew much like a bird leaving her nest, that I was going to soar. And she kept pushing me to do it. She knew I would, but I had to get to the point where I believed I could soar. And I can honestly say – at Auburn – I got my wings. I believed I could do it. Every time I would look back at my nest – there was this mom saying YES. FLY! You got this! Get back out there. My parents are the biggest gift in my life. I also had coaches, mentors, advisors, friends in the sorority – so many near me cheering me on. If you do not have this, get a mentor or older girl in your life right now that will help you fly. Point you where you need to go. Remind you of your gifts. How God made you. And be that for a girl beside you, that needs to know she has something special. She can soar too.
I hope these little tips (and there are SO MANY MORE) are a little reminder of how God can use one ordinary girl and do anything. I am so 100% certain he will use you for something great. I believe in you. Fly Girl, Fly.
War Eagle ladies.
PS. In 1994, we wore panty hose. We checked email at the lab and it was dial up. We didn’t use flat irons or get to thin our hair. The tanning bed was at the movie store – where you rented movies for your VCR. And we had to drive to the mall in Montgomery to get a cool shirt – likely from The Limited. And one time, we lit a girl’s hair on fire on pref day (accidentally) and we laughed about it until we cried again this week. I’m so sorry if that was your hair. I can still smell it.
IMAGES (Phi Mus – two that we discussed)