THE BLOG

A Letter to My Niece As She Starts College

08/20/2014 05:05 pm ET | Updated Oct 20, 2014
  • Shaun Sperling Motivational Speaker, Attorney, Performer and Civil Rights Activist
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Dear M:

As you go off to college, I feel like it is my duty, as your "wise" old uncle, to offer you some advice. I'm sure your parents have told you a thousand times to make the right choices, like; never walk alone at night, never leave a drink unattended at a party, don't do drugs and study hard, etc. That advice is incredibly important. But I want to tell you some things that I wish I knew at your age, things that people don't always talk about.

1. You are not alone. As most people go to college, or embark on any new journey, they will try to so hard to appear perfect in order to fit in and be accepted. But nobody is perfect. Everyone has lived through difficult times and experienced trauma. Whether they have lost someone close to them, face addiction, have parents with addiction problems or have been raped or physically and emotionally harmed in some way, we have all been there. You usually wouldn't know this because we live in a world where people try and mask pain and move past trauma quickly in order to cope and to look good. This is a behavior that is engrained in all of us. But remember that no matter what your struggles are, you are never alone.

I am sure you will feel inclined to do things and act in certain ways to fit in as you start this journey -- we all do this even through adulthood. But I know from experience that it is so hard to keep up with that façade of perfection and it can make you feel isolated and alone at times because you will wonder if others have experienced hard times similar to yours. You will be able to be your authentic self in time, and others will sense that and be able to do the same. Eventually you will be able to connect with people on a deeper level, but this may take time -- be patient and know that you are never alone.

2. You are enough. Not many people will admit it, but if I have learned anything about human nature, it's that most people don't believe that they are good enough. This is not just something that effects kids and young adults -- everybody feels this way at some point, and many people will live their entire lives not knowing that they are good enough. Even if you have the best parents, families and teachers you inevitably get shamed for certain experiences or displaying certain qualities leading us to believe that something is wrong with us or that we are bad. These messages are engrained in our subconscious like a computer virus.

As much as we try to convince ourselves that we don't care what other people think, ultimately everyone does. So as we grow up, in order to feel loved and get attention we try to cover up certain qualities that we hate about ourselves. Essentially we wear masks to hide our true selves and wrap ourselves in a package that we think will bring us love and attention.

You would think that this goes away after high school, but the sad reality is that it doesn't. And it is never more present then when starting college because everyone is searching for acceptance in their new environment. You will be tempted to do certain things and act a certain way to be accepted; it is normal in new situations. This may sound childish, but as you rush for a sorority, make new friends, date, study and take part in activities, always know that you are good enough just the way you are.

The worst decisions that we make in life can almost always be traced back to not believing we are good enough and therefore not living in our truth. If you make decisions based on that truth, you will end up in the right place and surrounded by the right people. You will make mistakes -- there is no doubt about that, but you will learn the most from the mistakes. When you feel like you have made the wrong decision or are in a bad place, remind yourself that you are good enough and I promise you will find your way. This will guide you to where you are supposed to be, who you are suppose to be with and ultimately bring you closer to your own truth.

3. You made it here on your own. Often times we don't give ourselves credit for what we have done to be where we are. We downplay our achievements by giving credit to someone else or blame our good fortune on a set of circumstances. The truth is that YOU have made it through high school, YOU have overcome obstacles and YOU have gotten yourself accepted to college. I know that a lot of people have helped you get where you are you will never forget that and be grateful for their help, but ultimately you have put in all the hard work to achieve all that you have -- so be proud of that. You are the master of your own destiny and you have gotten yourself to this place and it is YOU that will get you to where you want to go.

4. Take risks and welcome failure. I have told you this before, and I will say it again -- college will be the best time of your life. I say this not only because of the fun that you will have, but also because of the risks that you can take. You are given an amazing opportunity to explore who you are through classes, activities, friends and adventures. The more you are able to step out of your comfort zone and try new things, the more you will get to know who you are. I can't urge you enough to take advantage of every opportunity and go for it 100 percent. But know that in trying new things you will not succeed at everything -- there will inevitably be times that you will fail. But failure, and more importantly learning from failure is the only way to really know who you are and ultimately succeed. You will never regret trying something new, but you will regret missed opportunities. Dare to fail gloriously!

5. Honor the privilege. At the risk of sounding too much like an adult, I want you to always remember that going to college is a privilege. 50 percent of the worlds population are forced to survive on $2 a day and 20 percent are forced to survive on $1 a day. Only 6.7 percent of the world's population has a college degree. Having an education will help you achieve all that you have ever wanted -- you will have opportunities that most people could only dream of. So never take your education for granted. When the going gets tough and you feel like giving in, not studying or skipping class remember that college is a wonderful privilege. Education is something that nobody could ever take away from you, so take advantage of it and treasure it forever. And pay this privilege forward by giving back when you can.

What this all comes down to is that the most important thing is being true to yourself. College is the best opportunity to be authentic because for the first time in your life you are free from the constraints of family and friends from home and you are able to explore who you are. But being authentic is also most difficult in college because of the pressures you face. But take heed, as authenticity is a journey that will take you a lifetime to achieve, and this is the best time to start that journey. If you just remember that you are not alone, you are good enough, you are the master of your destiny and to never take this privilege for granted, you will achieve all that you have ever dreamed of.

I love you so much and I am so proud of you.

Love,
Uncle Shaun

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