She swished her red wine and dramatically looked off into the distance with a glint in her eye. Her mind’s projector was clearly flipping through the yellowed photo album on the walls of her skull in nostalgic revelry. I shuffled my eyes around the room, desperately looking for someone else at the house party to save me from this conversation with my childhood friend’s mom.
“Ah, college was the best four years of my life. You’re so lucky,” she finally said. Then I really needed a quick escape. Dear lord, I can’t handle this conversation yet again. I awkwardly chuckled and said, “Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.” And then made an excuse that I thought I just saw a flamingo outside the window and should probably go check it out.
This cliche about college being “the best four years of your life” is an outdated ideal that is a toxic mindset for college students to have during their time here. Allowing these four years that happen very early on in your (hopefully) long life to be cemented as “the best” forces us to seek something more than what is actually happening in front of us. And this idea limits life’s potential and makes us accept that daily, adult life must be horrible.
It’s like New Year’s Eve. There is an incredible amount of anticipation and lofty expectations that it has to be the best night ever, complete with champagne bottles popping, midnight smooching and electric dancing. But, while it is happening, I anxiously look around at everyone, being secretly jealous of how much fun they seem to be having while I spiral down into a depressed level of disappointment, since I am actually just far too sweaty and far too sober and far too tired for any of this shit. There’s too much pressure to make it an unattainable level of amazing, and when I realize that level is forever elusive, I feel as if I am doing something wrong and become self-conscious about the time I am having rather than enjoying each second.
In the past, this cliche fit along with the traditional idea that college is the final frontier of shenanigans and freedom before immediately jumping into a stable career, marriage, house and kids. But, the cliche no longer fits the mindset among people my age, which is one of exploration and passion. There is a resistance toward the traditional step-by-step guide outlining how your life “should be” after college. Somewhere along the way, some of us realized that there are unlimited ways to go about living this thing and that one is no better than the other. Why should we accept a pre-determined life that binds us to mediocrity that is routinely regarded as far worse than the glorious university days?
Hearing a Millennial say that they want to travel or live somewhere new for a few years or enjoy their 20s before settling down has become a cliche in itself, but it is a true feeling that many of us hold, and it works much better for me and my generation. These days, youth after college is believed to be a treasure best spent gaining profound experiences — feeling the pulse of a crowded city sidewalk, feeling the electricity spiking underneath the skin while dancing for hours in the middle of a restaurant in Greece, feeling the warmth of being at home in an unknown place through an indescribable, brief connection with a stranger sitting next to you — rather than being spent in forlorn thoughts about when you were truly free during those four years at UC Berkeley.
I am not discouraging people who do end up going into a stable career and life directly after college, because having money and working your way up to success is most obviously a good thing. But even still, the mindset now is different. Often, my friends and acquaintances express their desire to make their passion their job. There is a sincere inclination to build a career that matters to them and that matters to the world, instead of accepting the fact that they will be trudging through daily life, chained to a desk that they despise, swishing wine on the weekends, letting their minds flip through the pictures. The best years of their life could be in their 30s or 40s or whenever.
I have greatly enjoyed my time here at UC Berkeley and will look back on it fondly. I am not a bitter senior that led a college career filled with regret. College is indeed amazing. Pre-gaming with some friends in the dorms, looking out across the Bay from the Big C with a loved one by your side, taking a trip to Tahoe on the weekend and growing in incredibly diverse and unexpected ways are all collegiate experiences that can justifiably be labeled as “incredible.” And yes, I do indeed want a successful career, wife and kids one day.
But, I reject going through these four years with the idea that this is the pinnacle of my existence, that anything after this will pale in comparison to these years.
Instead of accepting this, I, along with many, should aim to continue to do some cool shit after graduation and to set up a life that doesn’t need nostalgic escapism. These four years in college are some of the many best years in life, but they are in no way the exclusive winner.
Taran Moriates writes the Monday column on the dos and don’ts of college. Contact him at [email protected].