Who’s Got Your Back: Advice for College Freshmen
College is a time of constant growth where you learn probably more about yourself than your respective major. Who you are at the start of freshman year is not who you are at the end of your first, second, third, or even fourth year. You will look back at the end of each school year, and be truly amazed at how much your experiences, mistakes, and friends have shaped you – the latter being one of the most important. If there’s one thing we can all take with us this fall, it’s this: the people who are in your life at this time matter.
I arrived on campus three years ago.
I still can’t believe how time has flown.
Like many others, I went from having a circle of high school friends to knowing well, no one. So, I had to find some.
Fortunately, when everyone is essentially friendless, all while going through the culture shock that is freshman orientation – believe it or not – it wasn’t hard to find friends.
Freshman year got off to a great start. I loved every minute of connecting with others and laughing with complete strangers.
After three years in college, some of those freshman friendships have continued to minister to me to this day – while some taught me more of a lesson than anything. I am thankful for both, but I wish I had been more strategic about the whole process and chosen friends more carefully.
My standards at the time were pretty low. Those standards were: BY ANY MEANS POSSIBLE, JUST FIT IN. In those moments, I was following advice from what modern day society has taught us: those who fit in are rewarded; anyone who doesn’t fit into the box is weird. This was the strategy with which I went. Just fit in.
The fall of my sophomore year was a season of melancholy. A high school friend went to be with Jesus. He was one of the most genuine and authentic people I have known. He was remembered as the one who always had a smile on his face. Truly, he was a light in the midst of a dark world. His time was too short, but his time was a blessing to many.
Anguish is a weird thing, too. You ebb and flow where some days are good, while some you’re asking, “Why are good people taken away so soon”. During this season, I remember only a couple of friends showing up and having my back. That’s when it registered the people we allow into our lives matter.
Here’s the thing. You can have numerous "friends", followers on social media, and likes on your Instagram pictures – but do those “friends” know your dreams, and your struggles, and what you’re going through?
Be strategic about the people you let enter your life. If I were a freshman again, I would have created more standards. Those being:
1. There are generic people in college, just like there are in high school. Find those who don’t follow the status quo. Being average is vastly overrated. You were made for more than “average”.
2. You want friends who challenge you mentally and who challenge your perspective. Hang around with the intelligent and ambitious. They tend to rub off those characteristics on you.
3. You need friends who walk with you and support you wholeheartedly – friends who believe in you. You never know what undetected storm is headed your way or season of adversity you will have to face.
4. A friend is someone who doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.
5. Friends are people who are going to drop everything to have your back. No one is ever too busy. It’s just a matter of that person’s priorities. Don’t hang around such people who believe any differently.
Go about doing this by surrounding yourself with likeminded people, who share these same values. You may find them at the bar on a weeknight, but not likely. You will probably find them at a small group or service-learning project.
When we don’t have the right people in our lives, we allow all of the wrong people in our worlds. And those relationships have the power to change us into people we may have never intended to become.
“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.” -Chris Hodges
There is a part I want to add to this, and it’s about the role we play in other people’s lives. It’s about how we matter in the lives of others during college.
Lo and behold, one of the reasons students choose to transfer is because of social circumstances. What’s actually surprising, social circumstances are why more than 45% of students transfer. It’s not necessarily the institution or the academic rigor, but the people.
I have heard stories where individuals (particularly college women) are labeled as whores, sluts, and bimbos. And when their names are brought up in casual conversation, they are immediately identified with, “Oh yeah, she’s a slut.”
The thing about it is: those judgments become brands. It’s the one word that comes to mind when we think about those individuals. We don’t recognize their accomplishments, but their flaws. And the slut shaming needs to stop.
While people are always trying to find someone new to tear down, don’t be a part of that movement. Be the person who finds something to value in everyone, no matter how insignificant or wretched.
You don’t want to be the friend or have a friend who lives behind a lie that anyone's life is perfectly pieced together either. Those lives only exist on Instagram.
Social media is one great resource to keep up with others, but social media is a façade behind which too many students live. Said another way, what you see in pictures is whom you get in real life. This is far from the truth. Those smiles are masks worn half of the time by those who are simply going through the motions. There is actually more going on behind the scenes with that person.
The relationships you form in college can build you up or tear you down. They can help or harm you, in ways you never fathomed. The people we allow into our lives matter, greatly. Don’t make the same mistakes as me. Raise your bar. Don’t flow with the tidal wave, or try to fit in. It’s the easiest, quickest, fastest way to find friends – but no one worth having comes easy.