Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Don't Let Them Steal Your Shampoo, and Other Advice on Starting College

I had the pleasure of seeing the talented daughter of some friends of mine in one of her last local performances before going away to college to be a theater major. Conversations with her apprehensive mom (and a couple of episodes of the '80s sitcom "A Different World" the night before) got me thinking what I might say to the girl in this milestone moment. I'm sharing it here in hopes it would be useful to any other young dreamers on their way out the door.

A wise man told me before I started college that, at first, I might think I was the only one like me in the whole place, but, eventually, I would find my tribe (not his word, but it's what he meant) and realize I wasn't alone after all. I found this to be true. Here are some other tidbits I would offer:

  • Be yourself. Until you achieve that, be as many selves as you have to be before you find out who you are.
  • Pursue your craft, your education, and your dreams. Let the boys pursue you (and remember, an immediate "no" is always the kindest and best answer if you know that's what it's going to be; it won't kill him to hear it, and it'll save time for both of you that you can use to STUDY).
  • You will meet some dark and twisted souls (and not just in the theater department). Learn from them, but don't let them steal your joy. Or your shampoo.
  • Don't just spit back at your professors what you think they want to hear. Have an opinion, and let them convince you of its accuracy or inaccuracy. They're there to serve you, not the other way around.
  • Question a grade (respectfully) when it seems unfair. Instructors don't always get it right the first time. It goes both ways like that.
  • Call your mother even when you don't absolutely have to. She'll appreciate it, and it'll make it less obvious when you DO have to call to ask for money. Try randomizing the time and day to make it seem spontaneous.
  • After about two weeks, you'll start to imagine you've seen a familiar face across the quad or the cafeteria, and you'll think it's someone from home,  even if you're sure no one you know is on campus. You are not crazy. This is a trick of the mind that seeks the familiar in the strange, and it means you need to call your mother again, even if it isn't on your randomized schedule.
  • The Baptist campus ministry (then Baptist Student Union) was the best thing about my college experience. Look it up, and if your campus has one, give it a try. Or two. (You don't have to be Baptist to enjoy participating in their activities, though it probably helps.)
  • Be friends with people who applaud your talent AND with those who couldn't care less about it but do care about you, so you'll know you are supported regardless of how well you "perform."
  • College is not just about classes and grades, but without some effort in those areas, you'll be sent back home to live with your parents again. Trust me, it's even harder the second time around. If this isn't motivation enough to study, you shouldn't have left home in the first place.
  • Get used to hearing unsolicited advice from strangers (like this). It makes up a large percentage of a performer's conversations with audience members, no matter how accomplished or competent the performer is, and it makes the strangers feel they're a part of something awesome...like your college experience will be.