Things I'd Do Differently

Some might say I’m too old to tell students what I would do differently if I had the chance to do high school or college over again, but I think because I’ve worked with students all of my adult life, many things from high school and college still stand out in my mind, possibly stronger than they do for others in my age bracket. So today, I’d like to share some thoughts about some things I would do differently if I could do my high school/college years over again, and maybe they can be helpful to you.

First of all, I would have visited more colleges before I chose one. I visited two, and one wasn’t even a real visit. I applied and was accepted to a state university. Then I ended up going to a private liberal arts college. The one I went to was definitely a better fit for me, but I wish I had done more exploring. So – visit as many colleges as you can, and visit a diverse selection of colleges if time and resources allow.

Second, I wouldn’t have worried so much about grades in high school and college – but especially in college. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been an educator all of my adult life and grades matter, especially when it comes to honors, awards, scholarships, and intrinsic pride and motivation. But, did it really matter if I got an A or an A- or an A- or a B+? In the long run, no, it did not. Once I received honors and scholarships, those grades didn’t matter at all. What mattered was what I had learned. I wish I would have focused more on what I was actually LEARNING, rather than the letter grade I was trying to earn. In the end, the skills, info, and content learned is what is most important, AND, if I’d truly studied to learn, my grades would have been good anyway!

Third, I would have branched out into classes and activities which would have taken me out of my comfort zone. As a high school educator, I saw so many students I truly admired, because even as teens, they were willing to stick their necks out, taking courses they didn’t know anything about, trying activities to see if they had interest or ability, and really taking risks in their choices for academics and activities. Maybe they were “old souls” or something, but their self-confidence never seemed to waiver. I really admired that. I knew people in college like that, too, and I admired them as well, even if I couldn’t get myself to mirror their confidence and courage. So, get out of your comfort zone every now then. Try something you may not be great at – or maybe you will find that you are! I wish I’d taken some art classes – more higher-level science – a philosophy class – maybe a challenging religion class – tried a new sport – jumped into intramurals at college. Don’t be me; stretch yourself in your choices.

Last, but not least, I would have savored the moments more. Even back when I was in college, most of us were always in a rush, always trying to get from one class to the next, one activity to the next, one day to the next, continually thinking about the next thing happening in our lives. Nowadays, I believe life is even busier, so it is really easy to just get caught up in the “what’s next” mindset and forget to fully engage in the present. You hear this all of the time, but there is a reason for it – it’s true: Life goes by so very fast! Oh yes – there are long class periods, long days, long weeks. But overall – it just rushes by! It takes a very intentional mindset to try to live in the moment. So, each day, try to slow yourself down and notice people, enjoy conversations, savor a small “win,” and celebrate a big “win.” Love your friends, your family, and your present life, and try not to always be thinking about what you have to or get to do next. Savor the small moments and appreciate them; try to embed them in your memory to pick you up or encourage you when you are feeling down, because, as Winnie the Pooh once said, “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts,” and as Dr. Seuss advised us, “Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Mary Joan - ICAN Sioux City, Orange City, and Sheldon Centers