I ran into a lot of families moving their kids into the dorms last weekend and SJSU started their fall semester this week, so college has been on my mind. I’ve been out of college almost as long as I was in, which gave me a bit of a shock when I actually did the math.
While I’ve (mostly) adjusted to post-college life, I can’t pretend I don’t miss it. Let’s look at a few reasons why.
#1: Learning new things
I went back to school to get an English degree. I added a Portuguese minor along the way. I didn’t expect to learn about rocks, California film noir, and Yanomamo people of the Amazon along the way. I definitely didn’t expect all of those things to be relevant to me now that I’ve been out of college almost as long as I was in.
While I didn’t love all my general ed classes (more on that in just a bit), I can’t deny that it expanded my worldview. Even within my major and minor, I read, wrote, and did things I never expected to do, let alone heard of, before I started studying them.
Adulting is a bit of a grind in comparison. Instead of constantly being exposed to new things, I’ve been focused on the same topics for months (and sometimes years) on end.
I was good at getting good grades. My first 4.0 in college was in the one and only semester I took 21 units. This was after I’d finally fought my way through two semesters of remedial math and passed the class I needed to transfer to a UC or CSU.
I’m still talking about it seven years later — yikes — because I am still ridiculously proud of that achievement. I thrive off of achievements. Give me that gold star, that trophy, that A+. They were a powerful motivator and an easy thing to help me rebuild my self-esteem.
Post-college, I don’t have those crutches. I have to motivate myself. I have to believe in myself.
I love structure and I love new things, which made the academic year a perfect fit for me.
If I liked it, I could find a way to keep at it. I loved my required Shakespeare class so much that I took an elective on the Elizabethan Age and did an honors capstone semester on The Faerie Queene.
And if I hated it? Barring the aforementioned gauntlet of remedial math that I had to get through, I never had to think about it again. (Goodbye forever, digital humanities class masquerading as gothic horror.)
#4: Having everything in one place
I didn’t just go to class at West Valley and SJSU. I worked there. My social life was there. My life was in one forest bubble that moved to an urban bubble. My whole life was centered on one place. It was easy and convenient.
Now, I balance one full-time job in one place along with a few part time-things in other places. My friends have scattered and we’re not all in one place at the same time.
It’s more work to maintain those friendships once your bubble bursts. There’s only so much time and you can only be in so many places. Sometimes it’s easier to just let those things drift away.
#5: A space for reinvention
Several of the things I’ve already listed come together to create this. I went back to school as one person trying to become a better version of myself with a shiny piece of paper. Instead, I discovered several versions of myself. Not better, not worse. Just different facets.
I became Liz Barcelos the magazine editor. The athlete. The photographer. The scholar on the art of translation. The poet. The event manager.
Post-college, I’ve lost that space to breathe and reinvent myself. Instead, I’ve had two experiences: the relative comfort of a full-time job that requires me to be one (sometimes stifling) thing or the balancing act of being many things but not being able to depend on any one of them.
That space to breathe is the thing I miss most of all.