Celia is headed to college. After 18 years of raising her, Celia knows how to jump-start a car, write a check, make a doctor appointment and stand up for herself if she’s being mistreated. Let’s hope she has enough sense to change her sheets more than once a semester, not to leave food sitting out and uncovered, and empty the lint screen before starting the dryer. And she better know that the microwave will not speed-dry her clothes, as my friend Kristen learned her freshman year.
Celia’s pretty set on the basics of living on her own — even if we’ve failed miserably at getting her to keep her room neat and make her bed every day (not for lack of nagging). But before we drop her at the dorm and embark on the lonely drive back to our too-quiet house, I feel the urge to transmit some last tidbits of parental advice.
Does any young adult really want advice from her parents before leaving home? I’ve found that our kids feel that they are experts at nearly everything, and initiating a conversation where I impart advice lands with a thud. But if I could have that conversation, or at least tuck a letter into the first aid kit I’ll pack for her dorm room, I’d consider it one of my last acts of maternal love before she soars out of the nest (at least until she moves back into the basement in four years).
This list encompasses advice I either received, learned or wish I had gotten before I left home, and I hope it makes our daughter’s journey richer. Maybe your child’s as well.
- Go to class! We hope you’ll make friends and get involved with exciting things. But remember why you worked so hard to get here and make learning your biggest priority. Keep up with the reading, study every day, and you’ll still have plenty of time to play.
- Get to know your professors. Especially at a big school, it can be intimidating, but you’ll get more out of school if you introduce yourself to your professors and go to office hours at least occasionally. Most professors — at least the good ones — genuinely enjoy getting to know students, especially the ones who put in some effort. Sit near the front of class and turn your cellphone off, and when you find inspiring professors, see what else they teach and try to take more of their classes — whatever the subject.
- Say yes (not to that!). College is a unique opportunity to do and go to unusual things, and many of them are free and within walking distance. Try things you wouldn’t normally be interested in (plays, student movies). Whenever possible, say yes to new experiences. Who knows where you might meet a fascinating friend or discover a hidden talent or passion? (See also No. 9.)
- Show up. Our friend and rabbi, Jonathan Roos, mentioned this one (no doubt channeling Woody Allen’s famous line) and it is indeed one of the most truest lessons I’ve learned. Whether it’s a club meeting, study group, a friend’s birthday, concert, game or her move into that 3rd floor walk-up, it’s important to be there. It will deepen your relationships and experiences. (While you’re at it, plan on showing up five minutes early so you won’t get stressed out, and it will show that you respect other people’s time as much as your own.)
- Eat at least five fruits and veggies a day. No matter how busy you get, take care of your body and its needs. You’ll be able to stay healthy, think more clearly and enjoy yourself more if you get some sleep, exercise, eat well and take some time to breathe, unplug and think your own thoughts. Try to become an expert at recognizing what your mind and body need and finding ways to get them.
- Immerse yourself in new places and cultures. You have the good fortune of having this exciting opportunity to live somewhere new and travel without the binds of a full-time job or much financial pressure. Once you settle in, get off campus and explore Nashville by bike, bus or foot. Taking a semester abroad or living in a culture different from your own for at least a summer broadens your perspective.
- When you feel like judging, be curious instead. You’re going to meet people with different beliefs and lifestyles from yours, and they have had different life experiences than you. Be kind, be curious and give people the benefit of the doubt, at least the first time.
- Trust your gut and stay true to your values. You have to live with the consequences of your actions, not the person who may be pressuring you to climb on the rickety roof or steal that sign. Of course, we know you probably won’t ever drink or smoke in college since your brain won’t be fully developed until you are 26 … but if you do, also remember that your gut may not be on full alert.
- Keep looking until you find a passion. College can give you the opportunity to explore new fields. You may be surprised to learn that you love ornithology or archaeology, or that you really don’t really like the subjects you thought you would. There will always be opportunities to change careers — as you know I did — but college is tailor-made to explore what stirs your heart and mind.
- Start saving whenever you start earning. Whether automatically or deliberately, try to put away 10 percent of what you earn throughout life so you’ll have more options when you need or want them. Someday you might want to take a trip around the world, buy your dream house or give a year of service, and having a fund to draw from will make following your heart easier. (If not, there’s always WWOOFing!).
- Keep things in perspective. Suffering — and treating — life’s wounds and setbacks (whether self-inflicted or not) is part of the journey. Problems that seem devastating or daunting usually are solvable, and have a way of working themselves out with time, sometimes even one good night’s sleep. And of course, no matter what you do and what mistakes you make, Dad and I love you and stand ready to help.
- Wear sunscreen. Bring a sweater. Call your mother (and father).
We are so excited to follow your journey, meet your favorite people and hear about your newly discovered passions. And when you can take a break between studying, going to student directed plays and exploring your new city, tell us what life lessons you would add to this list (and make your dang bed before you … oh, never mind).
Aviva Goldfarb is a mom of two, an entrepreneur, and writes about food, parenting and travel. Celia’s dad, Andrew Goldfarb, helped her write this list. Engage with her on Twitter and Instagram @avivagoldfarb.