My daughter is getting ready to leave for college
As the time draws near, I’m faced with the reality that I may not see my daughter before she leaves for college. She took a gap year, due to COVID, and has spent the last year studying Mandarin, classical Indian dance (Bharatnatyam) volunteering with various social / environmental agencies, and waitressing part-time. In July she’ll head off to Leeds, in the UK, to study Environmental Sciences.
Part of growing up, as I’ve so often told her, is having to choose between difficult options. I’m grateful that she understands this, and bears no resentment for the choices I’ve made recently, which cause us to be apart. She, and the rest of the family is in Hong Kong, and I’m in India.
So, facing her imminent departure, with me stuck in Delhi, I find myself wanting to put an arm around her and give her all the advice that a father should. The desire to see her succeed at the things she chooses to pursue, to not give-up when the journey gets difficult, to persevere and do all the things she wants to, fills my thoughts.
I know, deep down, that she’s ready. I may not have told her everything I want to, maybe even everything that I should, but she’s smart, reflective and insightful. I know she gets it.
There are a few things though, that through this week’s blog, I’d like to reinforce for her. Most of the ‘big picture’ life and relationship topics we’ve likely already talked about so I won’t go over them again, but there are some some practical college-focused things that I want to share with her. So, my darling daughter, here are some words of wisdom for you to roll your eyes at:
- The company you choose, the people you surround yourself with, will influence how you think, act and grow. Choose them carefully. They don’t need to be straight A students, or rule-abiding ‘good boys and girls’ (heaven forbid!), but you will know who encourages and supports you to be better and who doesn’t. Choose the former.
- Kill the monster when it’s little. Deal with relationship issues (friends, boyfriends, teachers, family any relationship) immediately, before they get messy. If you have assignments due in two months, start working now, before it becomes a huge project that is due in a week. Don’t let monsters grow. Stomp on them when they’re babies.
- Don’t procrastinate. If something seems unsurmountable, or too hard, or too complicated, start. The very action of starting to do something, breeds the possibilities of new actions. And sure, there may be times when something IS too hard or too difficult, but if you don’t start, you can’t finish. So start. Now.
- Take advantage of college facilities. There are very few times in our lives, when we know we’ll be in the same place for a few years, and are surrounded with facilities to do / try new things. Do them all, try them all. You never know what will resonate with you. Especially try things that you instinctively think you’ll suck at, or won’t like. Allow yourself to be surprised.
- Related to this, check out every opportunity. There are many exciting things happening on a college campus, from social activities to academic workshops, from cultural activities to volunteering opportunities. Sitting in your dorm room watching tv is a waste of your time. Do that when you want to, but be aware that you could be doing something way cooler and fun. Immerse yourself.
- Look ahead, look forward. You’ll be leaving friends and family behind, and yes you will miss them and think of them. That’s expected. Love them, and stay in touch with them, but the next four years are about you. And how you choose to use these four years, will disproportionately impact what the rest of your life will be like. Use them well.
- Have fun, but be safe. Living on the edge can be exciting but also stupid. It’s a fine line, so choose which side of that line you want to be on, and err on the side of caution. Remember when we talked about ‘coolness’? The easiest way to be cool, is to act like you don’t care and be a rebel. It’s also the easiest to lose, and become the opposite. It’s much harder, but longer lasting, to be really good at something. Anything. So yeah, let your hair down once in a while and get a little crazy, but don’t do it in a strange place without people you know and trust.
- You can be whoever you want to be. This is always true, but moreso now, because you're starting fresh in a new place. Decide the kind of person you want to be, and be that person.
- Seize the moment! You’ve learned, like all your cohorts in the last year, that life is impermanent. That which we have today, may be taken from us in an instant, without any fault of our own. There is nothing you can be certain of, other than the present. Be aware of the moment. Make use of what you have now, because there is no guarantee that you’ll have it tomorrow.
- Remember that the true currency of the world is time. We all have limited time in this world. The difference between the great people in the world, the people we admire, who have shaped the world as we know it, the Einsteins, Steve Jobs, Rolling Stones, Jim Morrisons and Ratan Tatas, and us, the difference between what they accomplished and what we have, or will, is largely due to how they used their time. Time wasted, is life wasted.
- Welcome to adulthood, my daughter. May it be long and fruitful.
Finally, there is a poem that has always meant a lot to me, and has helped me through some of the most difficult times of my life. For many years, I had it as a poster on my wall. Maybe it will guide you too.
By Max Ehrmann, 1948
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.