A few weeks ago, I hosted a presentation at my alma mater. It was the first time I had set foot on campus in nearly a decade and, frankly, I found the whole experience a bit surreal. As I observed a new class of students walk the same halls, study in the same spots, and sit in the same classes that I had, it felt strangely like I was watching an earlier version of me.
Now, with the perspective of ten years away from college life, the trip inspired me to think about all the things I really wish I could have told myself back then. Here it goes:
As someone who battled an eating disorder at university, I get the pressure -- and I'd love to tell you that it goes away as you get older, but it doesn't. So learn to deal in a healthy way now because becoming demonically-possessed by weight does nothing to put it on or take it off. It only makes you feel worse. So if you need help, reach out. If not, stop beating yourself up and go live your life.
- Do not obsess over weight.
Have an adventure. As I've said before, college offers a unique window to go big. You're young. You're relatively free. You're still forming impressions about the world and your place in it. Use this opportunity to do something extraordinary you'll remember forever. Take a road trip. Serve as a missionary. Work at a summer camp. Be smart and be safe, but be bold. This is your time.
Study abroad. Speaking of being bold and adventures, here's a way to knock out both at once. Even if you don't think you can afford it -- at the very least visit your campus study abroad office and research options. I had to take a semester off and save up the funds to study in England, but every double-shift I worked was totally, completely, 100% worth it.
Do not go in to debt. Trust me when I tell you that living beyond your means will limit the opportunities available when you graduate. Don't blow your shot at post-college freedom -- e.g. freedom to move to a cool new town, freedom to take a lower-paying job in the short-term for better opportunity long-term, etc. -- because you ran up a crippling debt in school. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices (See #3 above), but if you can't pay cash for it, don't buy it. Period.
Give back. You could line up all the bars in town, and you still wouldn't get a better buzz than helping others in need. It's an amazing feeling and one I wish I would have discovered earlier in life.
Do not lose yourself for anyone. In my journals from college, I should have written more about the courses I was taking and less about the boy I was chasing. I definitely lost a ton of time (See #10 below) -- not to mention looked ridiculous -- trying to alter things that were simply outside my control. If your mental magnet wants to be with you, is single (!), and is willing to make a commitment, great. If not, respect yourself enough to m-o-v-e o-n. Life - and college in particular - is too short.
Find a mentor. Great mentors should be on the "Endangered Species" list. These days, you really have to seek them out and the earlier you can find them, the better. The trick is that mentoring is like dating - you either vibe with a person or you don't. But, like dating, if you keep looking you will eventually find someone who fits.
Start building your network now. Whether you already have a great mentor -- or you're looking for ideas on how to find one -- take a tip from workplace expert Tory Johnson and reach out to five new people each week. It doesn't matter if you connect in person or via social networks, the only rule is they have to be in a position to help you achieve your goals. I just started doing this a few weeks ago, but if I'd begun in college I'd be up to almost 3,000 new contacts by now. Damn.
Find valuable work experience while in school. My biggest regret about college by far is that I didn't complete an internship. Not a single one. So, when I graduated I didn't have any contacts to leverage, any work experience to speak of, and -- oh yeah -- no job prospects to consider. Really. Stupid. Move.
Be present. While it's foolish to worry about what's now to the point you forget to focus on what's next (See #9 above), I do think it's wise to hop off the carousel once in a while and just live in the moment. Believe me, the ride will be over before you know it.
Create your own list of "Things to Accomplish in 2011" -- and go after them like a heat-seeking missile. From 14-year-old fashion bloggers to billionaire CEOs, this is an age of unprecedented opportunity for young talent. Even still, success won't just come to you. You have to attack it with two parts work ethic and one part lunacy. Of course, you'll learn a few hard lessons along the way, but just think of the stories you'll have for the kids in 2021.
Follow Emily Bennington on Twitter: