Continuing forward from a disappointing, chaotic college experience
October 26, 2012 10:08 AM   Subscribe

These were four miserable years, and they were supposed to be the best? I guess the best years still lie ahead of me?

Rant warning.

Let's face it, back in high school, they kept promising college would be the best four years of our lives. The awkward cliques and draconian environment of high school would be replaced with freedom and goofy but lovable intellectual professors! You would become the best person you could be and have lots of fun at it! You would get that coveted piece of paper and become a unique candidate for the greatest jobs ever!

Fast forward to my senior year of college. Oh, I should be so excited, shouldn't I? Oh, shouldn't I be enjoying the end of this paradise before I go out into the harsh real world, shouldn't I?

Not exactly. These four years have been (nearly) the worst.

I was a decent student in high school, good enough to attract the attention of many "high-ranked" schools. I picked the best out of those, lusting after the research opportunities, famous graduates, creative philosophical approach to learning, and a support system that would help me "find what I love" (and perhaps I would find WHO I loved?).

And what did I get?

Other health problems.
"Advising system" that wouldn't give me the time of day.
Difficult major with limited job opportunities.
A few losses along the way.

You might say, "Well, why didn't you take advantage of everything?" Well, I TRIED AND TRIED AND TRIED. All these stupid health problems got in the way. Yes, I am seeing therapists and doctors.

All those cliques that were supposed to disintegrate after high school? They're still here, even worse than ever - and some are disproportionately large.

It seems like people are here for the wrong reasons - how could this have been the BEST place I got into, and yet these clowns are all here?

I could never find a girlfriend, and people are too focused on intoxicatedly "hooking up", which I don't care for.

I guess I made a few friends here and there, but still found it hard.

GPA is pretty much trashed due to the health problems.

And yet I still have faith. :)

So, my question is, how can I make the most of my life from HERE ON? How do I "look on the bright side of life"? I'll probably be doing some volunteer teaching over the next few years. My goal has been (and sort of still is) medical/dental/law school. I honestly don't care if it takes me ten or even fifteen years - as long as I get there.

In conclusion, how can I ensure that the best years lie AHEAD of me?
posted by Seeking Direction to Education (49 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
That old "best years of your life" canard was formed because the ideal was that then men put on gray flannel suits and went to a soul-suck job for the next forty years and women (if they were lucky) got married and started popping babies and valium.

The LAST thing you need is to let that old stereotype get you down.
posted by cyndigo at 10:11 AM on October 26, 2012 [51 favorites]

This is going to sound really simplistic, but: fuck what everyone else says you SHOULD be doing or enjoying. Try things and when you find something you like, or people you like doing it, just keep doing that, whether it's a job or a hobby or a place to hang out.

I'm sorry college has been miserable for you, but it's great that you're getting help with the health stuff. And you're so very young. Plenty of time to figure out what you like and don't like, want and don't want.
posted by lunasol at 10:12 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and in the course of trying things, you'll find things or scenes you DON'T like. This may seem like a bad thing (especially if it's something you thought you would or should like), but it's actually good, because it helps you learn more about yourself and what you want.
posted by lunasol at 10:14 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

College sucked for me. The upside to this is that I will never long for my "college years" and my life has been on a (mostly) upward trajectory ever since. Seems like you got some shit figured out (even if it happened the hard way) and now you can go forth and get right into having a happy post-college life. You still have your faith and your goals. Most importantly, you have dealt and are continuing to deal with your shit in a positive way. Frankly, you're ahead of the game. Sometimes college is just the worst.
posted by Katine at 10:14 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Places, times, and circumstances won't make you happy and fulfilled. Only you can do that. It sounds cliched, but it is true.

If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, regardless of what else is going on in your life or where you are, you're not going to be able to look on the bright side. That's just the definition of depression and anxiety. Once you are able to take control of your life and see your happiness as something that you shape and grow yourself, rather than something that extrinsic things will make happen for you, that is when you'll be able to embrace optimism.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:15 AM on October 26, 2012 [14 favorites]

Well how about not expecting your environment to provide the good times? Also, make allowances for the fact that most of us experience some kind of mental/physical issue in school. I got depression AND Valley Fever in the same year. OUCH!

College is what it is. It's not an automatic access to your exact social and intellectual needs. It's a big, expensive building where, if you sit out 4 years, you get a piece of paper and MAYBE you get a nugget of wisdom.

Sounds like your school wasn't a good fit. Oh well. I'm not friends with anyone I was an undergrad with. Grad School was better for me. I'm still buddies with my study group nearly 20 years later.

Do more to find a better fit for further education. A smaller school, a school in a place you'd like better, a school where you meet the faculty and advisors and feel comfortable.

It's pretty much all on you to make it happen. So approach your life from a "fuck it if they can't take a joke" perspective. Go out, get a job, or get into a grad school you can live with. Don't take things so seriously, because it's not serious.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:16 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

The best way to ensure that the best years lie ahead of you is to a) focus on fixing any problems that are sabotaging your life (like health issues) and b) figure out what you want to do and work towards that.

Context: I am a college drop out who passed up a National Merit Scholarship. I went ahead and said "fuck em" ahead of time. No reason you can't do that now and henceforth.
posted by Michele in California at 10:18 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's okay that you feel this way. Some people have a wonderful time in high school. Others have an incredible time in college. But no matter how old you are, I think the best thing you can do is work to make the best of things where you are right now. Pursue your interests. Find like-minded people. Stay in touch with the people you like, move on from those who you don't.
posted by kat518 at 10:25 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, if your college years had been the best of your life... then now you'd be facing the future knowing that your best years were over, nothing but downhill from here. Right?

You seem very focused on your external circumstances, and on finding the ideal situation in which you will bloom and everything will suddenly go perfectly. Even the "medical/dental/law school" plan sounds a bit as though it's constructed along these lines-- a set of career goals that diverse seems as though you're thinking less about how you'd enjoy or be good at the work of a lawyer/doctor/dentist, and more about how great it'll be to become a magically rich and high-status person in a high-status occupation.

I'd respectfully suggest that if your focus is always on the suboptimal conditions outside yourself, you are very likely to meet with additional disappointments like the ones you've already encountered. For one thing, external conditions are much more difficult to control. For another thing, it's a big complex world and there's always going to be something amiss that you can focus on.

If you've got a relatively fixed occupational plan (teaching) for the next couple of years, then why not pick a couple of things about yourself that you'd like to change, and work on a plan for improving those? Goodness knows where anybody will be in five years-- we could all be eating canned beans in a post-apocalyptic wasteland-- but if you've spent those years slowly and successfully becoming, say, a demonstrably less negative person, or a fluent speaker of $language, or a warm and persuasive conversationalist, or someone whose anxiety is firmly and confidently under control, then it'll be hard for your future self to argue that the time was wasted, regardless of whether there's anything external to show for it.
posted by Bardolph at 10:26 AM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

I fucking hated college, and I generally love being a relatively young adult out in the working world, with money and a place to live and friends of varying ages and backgrounds. Hang in there, man.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:30 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

The thing is, getting a great job, a girlfriend, and a close group of friends aren't things that your college (or any other institution) will do for you. Your school doesn't pick your major for you and it doesn't navigate your career for you - it can't do these things because it is your personality and your preferences that will dictate what you want to do in life, there is not One Way that everyone should go through life and be a Success. Just because you join some vaunted institution/school or move to some amazing place to live, that doesn't mean that you can sit back and have your life served to you on a platter. You have to actively go out there and make things happen for yourself - finding the people you like, the things you like to do, and the work you enjoy that gives you a great career.

Life is just like that. Doesn't matter whether you're in high school, college, grad school, or beyond, you'll always find drunk people hooking up, and you'll always find that people tend to group together in cliques. Try visiting a nursing home sometime and see the old ladies cliquing and gossiping it up around the bingo table! Go to a respected, Ivy League associated medical center that is one of the best in the world and there are still doctors there who are dealing with alcoholism or drug problems. Look at the presidents of the United States, they've achieved what many feel to be one of the highest positions in our society, and yet a huge group of people still think any given one of them is a clown or an idiot. Don't think of your situation being specific to 'the college experience', think of it as being part of the life experience.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:33 AM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have great friends who do awesome things with their lives who couldn't stand college, for various reasons (attending a super-fundamentalist college, being at an anti-intellectual university concerned mostly about parties and football, surrounded by people more interested in making money after graduation than the intellectual side). You take your degree, take your friends, and move on to the "next thing", and pursue it with passion.

At some stage in your life, you will go through a combination of personal and health crises which will through your life into chaos temporarily. For you, that time in your life was college. So you got it over with. Onward.
posted by deanc at 10:33 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

My best four years to date have been the most recent four years. I'm in my late 30s. Keep working to find fulfilling work and real and rewarding relationships. Be of service to others. Those are the things that matter and that will make your life good.
posted by Area Man at 10:34 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

People use those kinds of ideas "best years of your life" and "youth is wasted on the young" etc. in order to validate their own life experiences, not yours. A teacher saying college will be the best years of your life to you could be saying it to you because it was true for them (validating their life), because they devoted their careers to education and for you to get there and want to encourage you (validating their job and purpose)... and an older person would say "youth is wasted on the young" because they see you making silly mistakes (like worrying about this instead of enjoying the simple things) and know that they did the same- and are again, validating their life, possibly losing perspective- or addressing regret...

Another varience on this would be mother's who tell a woman who doesn't have children that "its not all its cracked up to be... I wish I could go out at silly hours blah blah"

In short, people talk out of their ass.

"The best years of your life" are completely subjective and random. For me they don't exist. It would mean that I either regretted some things or parts of my life, or that I felt doled a crap hand in some parts. My 20's WERE VERY VERY HARD. I was ill, my mother died, I got a divorce, was pretty messed up. But I didn't lose the best years... what I remember is overcoming that, taking control, growing in independent thought. Moving to Europe, eating paella on the streets of Barcelona with my best friend, collecting really special moments.

And frankly, do you really want to believe that only 60% of your life- is the best part. Surely the best way to go forward would be to, as I mentioned, roll with the punches and see what comes- but collect "the best experiences of your life". Good luck!
posted by misspony at 10:35 AM on October 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

Life is seventy frillion billion times better after university. (I graduated with honors with a useless degree and have battled with depression my entire life.)

Admittedly, life is still quite like high school. There are still cliques, it's still hard to know who you have to ask to get the right information to know who ELSE you have to ask to get the answers you seek to solve the increasingly petty problems of daily life, your health problems will be constant beasts you must contend with, people you think of as friends will poof into the ether. That being said?

You will have the opportunity not to be beholden to any damn person at all. Perhaps you will have friends and commitments and schedules, but once those are dealt with, the only person you need to please will be yourself. You'll have entire days, sometimes, when you can be entirely selfish! Buy that box of 120 crayola crayons! Put your stuff anywhere you like! Learn to surf! Get a dog! There will be nobody judge your choices except you. It's pretty awesome.

The other thing I keep in mind when the weight of depression and comparison to my peers is really getting me low is that everybody else is having just as difficult a time with life as me. It might not seem like it, because as social creatures people are conditioned to put on a positive front. But everybody has some kind of daily trouble, some kind of flaw or hardship that they have to overcome. Nobody else is as successful or as happy as they seem.

The trick so far seems to be finding happiness wherever you can scrabble it from. Not long-lasting, permanent happiness, but rather, moments of joy. When you're constantly locked into a system of achievement, be it academia, or a job where your position matters to your self esteem, or you've placed all your hopes and dreams on something like your children or the solving of a problem, most people, including myself, sacrifice a lot of their ability to find happiness in small daily things, because stress and obligations are hanging over their heads unceasingly. If you work hard to develop your ability step away from those obligations in order to pursue your own enjoyment of living, then you'll find the obligations to be not nearly as prone to tipping you into a bad mental space when you come back to them. As you age, you'll develop better and healthier coping mechanisms for the problems unique to you. And, once you're out of university, it becomes that much easier to arrange your life how you need it to be.
posted by Mizu at 10:41 AM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

FWIW I enjoyed my four years of university for the most part but man, my late 20's/early 30's have been so so much better. Why?

1. I started doing things I really enjoyed. I went from getting a psych degree to entering computer programming, and I am WAY better suited for programming.
2. I am making money and working and self sufficent. Man does that feel different from being in school and always feeling broke and on someone else's dime.
3. I have adult relationships, not the drama filled ones that defined university. (I lived in residence all four years, so drama and ridiculousness was rampant.) I am friends with people who are like me and whose company I enjoy, instead of hanging out with people who just happen to live in the same residence as me.
4. I have become infinitely more self aware and okay with who I am. I spent a lot of my univeristy time trying on different versions of myself, never really feeling like "me" as any of them. Once I got out and started living a life outside of the university bubble I have just fallen in to my authentic self and I have found I really like natural me.
5. I have started taking my life in hand and taking responsiblity for improving my life. I surrounded myself with good and supportive and healthy relationships and severed ties to with people who were a negative impact upon me. I decided I needed to start being healthier and in the past 3 years I have lost around 100lbs and feel so so much better.
6. I stopped giving a fuck about what I was "supposed" to do or be and just did what made me happy. I did a total 180 in terms of career (psych to computer programming), I took up hobbies that I enjoyed despite their being "nerdy" or "uncool" (I do hand quilting, I started a book club, etc), I stopped engaging in the bar scene since it was more about my trying to fit in than it was me enjoying myself, etc.
7. I now make a point to notice and speak out loud about the things that are good. This morning there was an incredible sunrise as I drove in to work. I discovered the magical parenting powers of glowsticks on five year olds. I'm having a great hair day. The can of pop I'm drinking is really refreshing. Basically, when something is good I make a point of acknowledging it. My headspace is much more thankful and happy because of it.
8. I am in an incredible relationship with a man who makes me feel more comfortable to be myself than I have ever been in my life, and I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a step mother to an awesome kid.
9. I was diagnosed with depression and got on medication for it. Yeah... major change there.

Basically, my best years have been since I got out of school and started being independant. I am living a life that is pretty far removed from what I thought my life would look like when I thought about my future when I was in univeristy, and holy christ is my life buckets of awesome. It has loads of stress and responsibilities and commitments and it all takes a lot of work to keep on the up and up, but it is worth it. Each year has been better than the last (except 2009 which was a god damned shit show and holy christ I don't know how I got through that year), and I am really excited to see what else is in store for me.

Don't give up hope. The best years ARE to come. You haven't even begun yet. Be excited for whatever is coming down the line for you.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:44 AM on October 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

That saying should die a terrible death. My mom used to remind me of that in high school all the time, about my high school years. I was not very happy in high school, and felt the way you do now. College was a little better, but not much.

I'm a few weeks shy of 30 currently, and I LOVE my life. I'm the happiest I've ever been. I couldn't have predicted this back then to counteract with "oh no, I will feel the most comfortable with myself as an adult with responsibilities and a great career".

It's a whole bunch of pressure you don't need. Don't worry about it, keep on keepin on.
posted by Fig at 10:44 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have to put my $0.02 in here. College years / young adult years can be very difficult for people with depression or other MH stuff. Teens and twenties -- those years tend to be already when MH symptoms are most active. Related, when one is younger, one has less experience managing MH symptoms and experiences -- you're not good at it yet. College is relatively unstructured, and a time of unstable schedules and sleep, which can exacerbate MH issues. College can be much about grades and black-and-white success versus failure; this, too, can exacerbate MH issues. In college, you're broke and/or have crappy campus MH services.

Work world, older world, can be a much better experience. Structure, a daily social environment, health insurance, a regular schedule, regular sleep, a day-to-day experience re success and steady progress rather than make-or-break exams and papers.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:48 AM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

This whole "the best" thing is the most unhelpfull bullshit. College: the best years of your life? Well then you might as well don your cap and gown and then kill yourself. Your wedding day: best day of your life? I guess it's all down hill from here. Birth of your first child most important day ever? Guess those other kids count less!

You don't know what the best anything is until way after it has passed and sits in a context of experience.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:48 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

That old "best years of your life" canard was formed because the ideal was that then men put on gray flannel suits and went to a soul-suck job for the next forty years and women (if they were lucky) got married and started popping babies and valium.

To clarify: babies in, valium out.
posted by Nomyte at 10:49 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

To clarify: babies in, valium out.

I think that's "babies out, valium in" but yeah, that.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:53 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Life gets better as you get older, but you have to put the effort in to MAKE it better. How you define "better" is up to you. A hot thing will always cool to room temperature, given enough time. To keep that thing hot, you have to add in fresh energy.

Work out what you want, for yourself. It's OK to want things because other people want them, but it's not necessarily the best method. When you know what you want, work out ways to go out there and find it. Life is like the stock market sometimes in a couple of ways - it goes up and down, and past performance is not a guide to future performance. Pick one thing that you want to achieve or get, right now, that's worth it to you to put the effort in. Then go for it. If what you're doing isn't working, try something else.

Don't expect, though, that because you're in a particular place you're going to win. Lots of actors in Hollywood bus tables. Osmosis won't make life better for you.

Better for me means, amongst other things, being more confident. I've worked on being more confident over the years, and I don't recognise the me of five years ago any more. Life, in that respect, is better for me now. I also have more money, more freedom, more political awareness, more clarity about the state of my life, etc. I've had to work for all of those things and put energy into the system, but it's very rewarding.
posted by Solomon at 10:54 AM on October 26, 2012

There is no doubt that feeling isolated among cliques is a horrible way to live. Those feelings are telling you a strong message. The message isn't that you are not good enough or that you are in the wrong place, the message is that you need to put more effort into connecting with people. This is why people form cliques, so they can feel bonded and safer; it could even be argued that joining one is a survival mechanism for us and other species. Do not be afraid to connect with people and even a group of people. It's okay to be in a clique (just not the stupid bully cliques). On the outside, they can seem negative because one is not privy to the inside dynamics, but once you are among a group you will have a better sense of security, will enjoy yourself more and will have a better outlook. Of course, there will be drama to deal with, but as long as you aren't the asshole, better than the drama you are in now. It makes sense, feeling alone is horrible, so do what it takes to not feel horrible, like get some friends! And trust me, it's not so hard as one may think, just start with one person...
posted by waving at 10:58 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god forget those idiots that say that's the best time of your life. I didn't start enjoying things until I hit 30 and hell I'd trade those good years in for how amazing life got when I turned 40. Look lets say all going well you live to be 100, somewhere in the next 75 years are going to be your "best years" but if you spend your whole time waiting for them to come along you might be too busy worrying if these are the best ones or will there be better best years and not actually enjoy them.

I find it easiest to remember that this too shall pass. Now the bad stuff will come but it will also go so, it might take some effort on your part, but you can make it go so don't sweat it. The good stuff will come and may go as well so enjoy the fuck out of it while it's here and know there will be some other different good stuff along later to enjoy as well. Don't spend your life waiting for some "best" moment or you will miss all the pretty damn good moments too.
posted by wwax at 10:59 AM on October 26, 2012

I was a decent student in high school, good enough to attract the attention of many "high-ranked" schools. I picked the best out of those, lusting after the research opportunities, famous graduates, creative philosophical approach to learning, and a support system that would help me "find what I love" (and perhaps I would find WHO I loved?)....

All those cliques that were supposed to disintegrate after high school? They're still here, even worse than ever - and some are disproportionately large.

It seems like people are here for the wrong reasons - how could this have been the BEST place I got into, and yet these clowns are all here?

I could never find a girlfriend, and people are too focused on intoxicatedly "hooking up", which I don't care for.

Wow, you sound like me in college. I felt much the same way throughout my four years. You have to know, it gets better almost immediately after you're out of there. Getting away from all the immature, privileged, judgmental, overambitious assholes you're surrounded by will help immensely. One of the best things you could do for yourself right now would be to just graduate, then go work anywhere. I worked at the campus bookstore while doing freelance work in my field. Give yourself at least a year to just work some part-time job and live in an apartment and spend time on the Internet and try out hobbies and get to know people in real life...without judging yourself. You are so young, and you have so much time ahead of you to figure things out.

Whether you hated college or loved it, my postcollege advice is the same: The key is to stop judging yourself while this is all happening.
posted by limeonaire at 11:11 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I told you the four years after college are the best years of your life, would you start feeling like you were failing at fun already? That's what that sort of things makes me feel.

My 30s beat the pants of my 20s, so at age 40 I'm really looking forward to this decade. I'm pretty sure we both have Tons to look forward to.
posted by ldthomps at 11:13 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you are on your deathbed, and you look back and say "College was the best four years of my life," I'm pretty comfortable telling you that you wasted your life.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:14 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

oh god, college. for the longest time i was convinced that anyone who said they enjoyed the experience at my Elite College of Choice was suffering some kind of stockholm sydrome or institutional toxoplasmosis, you know how like a parasite will cause a rat to have no fear of cats, solicit them for favors & advice & small talk, then get eaten, &c.

now that i am more mature, i.e., not in college, i have softened a bit and think it's maybe ok for other people to have fond memories of a time i only remember as a storm of emotional turmoil highlighted by lightning bolts of anxiety and thunderclaps of dread.

whenever anyone starts telling tales of college life, a friend of mine likes to say "mmmMMM! college!" in the same sort of voice the cookie monster might say "mmmMMM! cookies!" and that pretty much exactly sums up how i feel about college now.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 11:17 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

College was crap for me. I liked the facilities but was a terrible match for the program, didn't make any friends, nothin'. I met my husband outside of school, got married, bought a house, had a kid, and I'm about to turn 30 and I really honest to god believe my best days are AHEAD of me. This is after spending most of my 20s freaking out about how much time I felt like I was wasting and how everyone was leaving me behind. I'm so looking forward to the rest of my life, it's silly.

College is just a high school extension and anyone who says that was the best period of their life must have a pretty sad existence, honestly.
posted by agress at 11:38 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Best years of your life" is always about the pressures and unpleasantness the speaker is currently suffering under. I'm 42 and I hated high school. Despised it. I was a geek when it wasn't cool or a good career path, had all my various personal issues and low grade depression before we looked seriously at those things.

And I can look back at that from a place where I have career worries about being an aging nerd in a job that favors youth and family worries about how we'll navigate the next 20 years money and life-wise and I think "man, there was a lot good about that time." When I put a second's effort into it I think of all the shit and the ways it blowed. The lack of control over my own destiny, inability to see my own worth, etc forever. But we don't look back that way and we see all the opportunities we'd completely jump on (or we tell ourselves that anyway) if we were there now.

So when you hear this "best years!" nonsense, that's what it's about. It's people who didn't have your challenges and/or have forgotten the ones they had. In twenty years you'll do it too. About 15 years ago Baz Lurman had a hit with his spoken-word 'sunscreen' song. One of the most accurate things in it was this:
Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
If you want to make sure your upcoming years are great, take the flip-side lesson from this phenomenon. Years from now there will be things about whatever shit you're dealing with that you'll wish you could have back. Not because they don't suck, but because there'll be aspects of it that you'll miss, or see as places you could have done more with. Which means there's ways to look at right now that don't suck, joys you're not grabbing or appreciating less than you someday will. The time will go by and you won't get it back, so instead of letting go of that pain and annoyance in 10 years you should do your best to do so right away.
posted by phearlez at 12:13 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clique type groups of course still exist in college but I made friends in college I never would have made in high school just from being in an environment that kind of encourages somewhat of a fresh start. I don't think college itself was the problem for you. You've acknowledge you've had to endure health and mental issues, which can't be easy. College is time consuming and takes effort to do well in.

Generally though the phrase "XXX is suppose to be the best time of your life" I find pretty lame. I've always countered that with, make the most out of the present.
posted by jeahc at 12:21 PM on October 26, 2012

If you're miserable in college, why are you going to go to Law School? What do you think you'll get out of it? Why are you even going to college? What do you actually enjoy doing? Do more of that. You are not a failure if you don't become a lawyer. If you're hating your classes now, why do you think working in that field would be an improvement?

Figure out what you really want to do, what really makes you happy. Start doing that, right now.
posted by empath at 12:32 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Forget what "they" say. We're all individuals, ultimately.

I happened to have a fun time in college, but I have to say that being a young professional was *by far* better: what with money, my own place sans roommates, a full kitchen, and never ever having to worry about studying again.
posted by honey badger at 1:16 PM on October 26, 2012

It gets better.

(I spent the first two years of college blipping about from major to major. Finally settled on one and started taking - ! - 20-21 credits a semester and working 20 hours every weekend. I did not have a social life, did not enjoy school, and had fantasies about pouring paint stripper on certain particularly-douchey professors' cars. I've had my knocks since I got out, but even my most woe-is-me unemployed moments in the Real World have far surpasses college times.)
posted by notsnot at 1:30 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's my $0.02 coming from a wise old age of 51 :)...

I think continuing to work on yourself and your happiness is the best way to ensure that the best is yet to come.

I remember being in high school and one bad thing would happen, then another, and I would start thinking "this is going to be an awful day" and then I would notice every bad thing that happened and sure enough, the day was awful. In fact, my high school years, my college years, and all of my 20s were pretty damn depressing.

I've worked and worked and worked on getting better... medication, 12-step, talk therapy, etc...

It has helped a lot!

And now, I try to reverse that pattern from high school and, when I remember, notice the good things that are happening... even a small thing like a flower or a sunset or a bird in a tree. On the crappy days, I remember that things change and I tell myself "tomorrow is another day". Sometimes good things and crappy things happen almost at the same time -- my partner of four years and I got involved just as my mom was stricken with congestive heart failure and died 2 days before Christmas. I don't think in terms of "good years" and "bad years" any more. I just try to enjoy the good things that are happening and when I feel down and depressed I remember that "things change".
posted by elmay at 1:36 PM on October 26, 2012

Keep in mind too that for many young men -- I'm assuming you're a man -- it's the late high school and college years when mental illnesses -- everything from anxiety/depression to schizophrenia -- tend to flare up. So college might indeed be "the best time" for many people, but when you're suffering mentally and emotionally it can be a horribly alienating, lonely period. The isolation is only heightened if you go to school away from your family and hometown social circle.

Sad to say, it's possible that your 20s might not be all that awesome, either. It may be just an extension of the isolation you felt in college, only without even the protective cocoon -- such as it is -- of a university system. If you stick with counseling, though, it can be a time of sorting things out and repairing yourself. If you're fortunate -- and make the necessary effort -- you could build a social circle and at least have a support net. You might meet the right person and form a solid and mutually supportive relationship.

Eventually, though, it does get better. A lot of internal drama sorts itself out, you mature emotionally, your internal life deepens. I'm hardly free of angst in my 40s, but it's so much less severe than in my 20s or 30s. Meanwhile, your bad memories of your younger years tend to drop away, leaving mostly good times and hard-won lessons.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:38 PM on October 26, 2012

Dude. I found high school an emotional morass. I was never more anxious and self-conscious than when I was in college. My early twenties were also quite tumultuous. And then I hit twenty-six or so and suddenly... everything got easier.

Perhaps not coincidentally, scientists who study the brain are finding that said brain does not fully mature until twenty-six or so. And I swear to you, it seemed like I *felt* those final few clicks of yon synapses connecting. I suddenly felt so much calmer, happier, able to deal. Serendipitously, luck began to favor me in a huge way. Sure, there have been ups and downs since my mid-twenties -- but I've been able to handle the downs much better, and appreciate the ups much more.

If I ever have kids, I will never, ever tell them that any time before 26 is "the best time" of their lives. I'll say, "It sucks, and then it starts getting a little better, and then it keeps getting better, and then, suddenly, it gets REALLY good."

And that's what I'll say to you, too, along with: Be patient with yourself. Learn to meditate. And keep the faith that something better is on the horizon.
posted by artemisia at 3:44 PM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm just another person who hated college. It felt so... temporary and isolated and I felt so out of place. And then a few years passed and I was in my 20s, living in a big city, and I felt this strange emotion that I hadn't felt since I was a kid: happiness. I loved getting out of the petri dish and living somewhere where I'd never see any of those college people ever again. I loved having an income and money that I didn't have to stash away for school. I loved reading for pleasure. I loved going to get-togethers where there was nary a solo cup in sight. After a few years of annoying mailings, I sent an email to the school's aggressive alumni association telling them never to contact me again. And they haven't! It's like COLLEGE NEVER HAPPENED. I love it.

So, yeah, it gets so much better. In the meantime, cultivate your interests. Be independent. Read and learn and grow outside of school and keep your grades up enough to get you where you need to go. And then get out!
posted by mochapickle at 4:23 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My twenties were better than my teens, my thirties were better than my twenties, and so far my forties have been better than my thirties. At this rate, by the time I'm eighty I'll be unstoppable.

High school and college, on the other hand, were a time of loneliness, depression, alienation, loss, and confusion. It's not that I wouldn't go back if you paid me, but there would either have to be a WHOLE lot of zeroes to the left of the decimal point on the check or I'd have to be allowed to keep all my current knowledge and understanding about what matters and what doesn't.

The best years most definitely still lie ahead of you. And that's the way you want it, really!
posted by Lexica at 7:30 PM on October 26, 2012

My college years had their asses handed to them by my late 20s, early 30s (where I am now). Sooo much better! I know who I am. I like it. And having a damn good time of it. Things are going uphill.
I kinda feel bad for the people my age whoi are miserable and keep looking back to their college years with nostalgia and sadness. Not me. I'm digging this being an adult thing :D
posted by Neekee at 8:00 PM on October 26, 2012

The reason why college is supposedly the best four years is that it's supposed to be the last time that you're being financially supported by your parents, while not having to work or live at home, and you can party on down. I think that stuff is kind of going away in the modern era, what with everyone being broke and all.

College was a lot of ups and downs for me. I had some really good things happen to me every year, and some pretty bad things happening every year. And I eventually discovered that work was awesome because I was bringing money home and didn't have to spend all night every night doing homework.

It gets better :)
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:02 PM on October 26, 2012

I found university very hard, stressful, socially isolating, etc. Enjoyed myself much more before and after. Presently, mid 30s, enjoying more still. Expect things to remain varied and stimulating until the very end. The only inevitably bad part is your body wearing out, but that can be fought.

In general when someone refers to a period in their life as the best years, it strikes me as terribly sad. Focus on the present and tell your nostalgia and/or regrets to follow your expectations in fucking right off.
posted by ead at 12:14 AM on October 27, 2012

My goal has been (and sort of still is) medical/dental/law school. I honestly don't care if it takes me ten or even fifteen years - as long as I get there.

In conclusion, how can I ensure that the best years lie AHEAD of me?

For a start, don't go to medical/dental/law school until you're passionate enough about one of those fields to keep from lumping them together. When you lump them together like that all I can think is that you only find them appealing because they're THE approved career paths for intelligent people. I can't tell you how many people I knew in high school who went into those fields because it seemed like the thing to do. The truth is, they are all difficult career paths that take commitment and different skill sets. If you don't do the emotional legwork required to determine what it is you really like and would do well at, you would be locking yourself into a career that will make you very unhappy. So, do that work first, and then decide.

For the rest: commit to finding solutions instead of complaining and putting others down. Ask questions and listen more than you talk. Say yes often. Work hard whenever you find something you care about. Be honest with yourself, and with others. That attitude will give you the education you were hoping for. My first reaction to "college will be the best years of your life" was to laugh. Life after college and graduate school has been like going from black and white to color. There are no arbitrary grading systems guiding my self-assessment. My social life is no longer limited to the kinds of people I met at my particular university. My time is my own; after I leave work, I can do whatever I want. Life after school is great! You didn't enjoy high school, and now you've realized you didn't enjoy college. Maybe school isn't for you; maybe you'd do better in a different environment. If that's the case, don't go to graduate school. Figure out what it is you want to do instead.
posted by rhythm and booze at 12:51 AM on October 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

My experience with college was similar to yours. In retrospect, this was because I had a lot of my own problems that I was dealing with (crippling shyness, anxiety, the fact that I was at a fundamentalist Christian college as I was transitioning away from fundamentalism).

Post-college has been better, especially since moving out on my own, getting a job, and making a few close friends.

Things that helped me, which may or may not help you:
* I got a job where I have to be on the phone almost constantly. I hated this at first; I am not naturally a social person. But that's why this aspect of the job helped me so much; it was sort of an immersion therapy for social anxiety. I'm not as afraid of striking up conversations as i used to be.

* I realized that there's not a scorecard for real life. The only standards you have to live up to are the ones you impose on yourself. You have more important things to worry about than whether a hypothetical cloud of strangers would approve of what you're doing.

* I moved hundreds of miles away from the social groups where I felt excluded and alone and made real life friends with people I met through a video game group on the internet.

Cliques are mostly imaginary in my experience. Most people are not actively trying to exclude you from their social interactions; they just aren't actively trying to include you either. They don't hate you; they're just busy and don't see you.

The trick is to make a few friends, and then make friends with their friends, and so on. You'll need to be proactive here. Make initial contact through some kind of activity; for me it was online multiplayer video games. For you it can be sports or one of your remaining classes in college or a church or volunteering. There are plenty of communities that will welcome anyone who's wiling to join them.

Pick a few interesting people at this activity. Talk to them. If you're looking for topics, remember "F.O.R.D.": Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams (as in, plans for the future not as in what happens after they go to sleep). People are usually interested in talking about at least one of these topics, and you can work from there.

Once you've made friends with a few people, you can make friends with their friends. You build a social network (in the real, non-buzzmarketed sense of the phrase). Everyone is lonely in modern society, but everyone is also busy. The trick is to not be invisible.

* As I transitioned away from my fundamentalist Christian roots, I got a lot less judgmental about other people. I detect a similar judgmental tone in your post here which I don't think will serve your interests.

Anyways, I hope at least some of that is useful to you; take the good and leave the bad.
posted by JDHarper at 8:18 AM on October 27, 2012

Probably at a certain point in the future you'll say, "wow! Here is all the fun I was supposed to be having in college." For me this happened, in part, a few years after college, when I was in a great city with a small group of friends down the street. Then it also happened, in part, during the early wine-women-and-song-type days of my current relationship.

Another helpful note: I had a wretched, awful time in college. Three months after graduation, the bad times hurt me less. Six months after graduation, I had a clearer appreciation of the good times (comparatively few though they were). Almost 15 years after graduation, boy, do I remember that the bad times happened, but my "college memories" are of the good times. The details of the bad times are all but forgotten. My mind has helped me out with a protective amnesia.
posted by skbw at 8:42 AM on October 27, 2012

When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I went to a therapist with the exact same complaint. "Everyone tells me these are supposed to be the best years of my life and I feel terrible. WTF?"

She gave me the big takeaway that was ultimately the most important part of my therapy with her...that this period of your life is actually really complicated and confusing and having an expectation that it should be the best time of your life just exacerbates the things that are terrible about it. I'm now finishing up my twenties and I can say she was totally right about that.

People throw around a lot of stupid blanket statements about life that will make you crazy if you take them as truth. How on earth are you supposed to enjoy anything if you are constantly judging it to see if it's living up to some impossible, non-specific standard of being the best time of your life? And worse, that notion implies that the best times of your life are finite and ending right as you are beginning and you are like...shit, I bungled it and now it's over. No wonder you're depressed. Now I'm depressed!

So much of this time of your life is ultimately about deciding who you are and what you believe, and your experience will often disprove conventional wisdom...and that's actually where things get the most interesting and freeing, because it means you can live your adult life however you want to!

It's all true! It's all false! Who knows! Fuck's short, eat dessert first. The end.

*side note: I got that advice fairly early in that age bracket and it still got even more terrible. I ended up having a full blown major depressive episode/debilitating anxiety disorder anyway a couple years later in college. It's more common than you'd think and something you will recover from.
posted by amycup at 9:19 AM on October 27, 2012

Good God am I having a better time now than in college, and I graduated only recently into one of the worst economies of the last 40 years!

It gets better, seriously. The scary thing about life after college is the lack of structure, but you soon realize that this is also the awesome thing about life after college.
posted by Ndwright at 10:38 AM on October 27, 2012

First time around, college was wasted on me. I didn't have any of the problems which you had, but I still passed by an awful lot of great opportunities to meet new people, try new activities and generally have a fantastic time. So when I did my MA recently, I took every opportunity that came my way. Some turned out well, some meh, some not so great.

I don't see this as learning from my mistakes, but rather understanding that there are only limited chances that will come your way. Part of your problem is that you are viewing all the opportunities you missed out on because of your health problems as legitimate opportunities. They weren't. Unless you had a yes/no say in the matter, you didn't have a proper chance to take advantage of the good stuff.

Life can be tough when health problems strike. When I was sick for a long while, I thought a lot about the adage every cloud has a silver lining, and figured that maybe there would be some upside somewhere. Fortunately there was, but sometimes there just isn't. In those circumstances, I always try to make a silver lining for myself. It means you have to be proactive as much as possible. Think outside the box to maximise the best in your situation. When you exhaust every possibility to make a bad situation better, you regain a great sense of control over your life. If you can do this during the bad times, the good times should take care of themselves.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 3:37 PM on October 27, 2012

I had a great time in college... and my life is STILL better now (8 years later), despite having had a painful chronic health issue the past year (and misc. other crappy stuff). I found my early-mid twenties horribly awkward. I'm 30, and settling into myself very happily now. So yeah - you've gotten some great answers...and one more vote that there's more to life than college!
posted by jrobin276 at 3:51 PM on October 27, 2012

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