I just spent family weekend at my oldest son’s college and boy, did I notice the age gap between college kids and me. I don’t usually feel old; I usually think I’m around 23 until I try to stand up too quickly and I pull something, but spending the weekend with a bunch of college students was eye opening. Let me clarify, it wasn’t so much that I felt old as it was that I felt that college was such a long time ago. It made me think about how different I was at that age and how I took certain things for granted back then. I don’t mean just the freedom of limited supervision or weekly quarter beer nights. I mean the less obvious things that you don’t realize won’t be available to you until after you get a significant amount of distance from those college years.
After my weekend I realized that these are the things that I miss the most:
1- An unobstructed view of the future. College kids think they can accomplish anything and they feel that they have all the time in the world to do it. Nothing is impossible in their minds. I miss that perspective. Now, as I approach my 5th decade (slowly, dragging myself there, actually) my perspective is colored by my experiences and, unfortunately, that “color” can be limiting. When you are in college obstacles do not exist. When you are 50, obstacles – whether real or imagined – are far more likely to be a deterrent. Take the issue of time. To me, time is short. At this point in my life if I realize that something is going to take 10 years to accomplish I am far more likely to ask, “Do I really want to be doing this when I’m 60?” But when I was a 20-year-old, five to ten years in the future was nothing. Just a blip on a time line.
2- Access to learning. There is so much to know and the thought that there is somewhere where you can spend large chunks of your day taking in all that information is mind blowing (and, no, sitting on your couch and searching Google for info is not the same). Of course, when you are in college it doesn’t seem nearly as exciting as quarter beers and no parental supervision but from my view now, it’s the greatest thing ever. I wish I took advantage of that more than I did.
3- Which brings me to my next point: knowing everything. Despite the very real possibility that college kids are not taking in the vast amounts of knowledge that are available to them, they are still SO MUCH smarter than the rest of us. As I get older I know that I know very, very little. I no longer have all of the answers. But, college kids? They know EVERYTHING and the strength of their convictions with which they will let you know that they know everything is impressive. I want to tell them to wait until they are in their 40s when they realize that they really know nothing, but they wouldn’t believe me anyway, because, to them, I really do know nothing and they do know everything!
4- Fewer responsibilities. Even working and going to school while in college didn’t seem as heavy a burden as being a parent to two kids, a daughter to an aging parent and a citizen of this world. Being a responsible 20-year-old is completely different than being a responsible 49-year-old.
5- Energy. I don’t just mean the ability to stay up past 2 am then bound out of bed for an 9 am class (although I am a tad wistful about that), I mean the ability to absorb a lot of info, have a busy social life, work hard, dream big and do it all with energy to burn. Seriously, if I could just have a tenth of that energy back…
My wish for my kids is that they could appreciate all of this now, while they are young, but they won’t. Hopefully they will use all of their energy and freedom to learn a lot and accomplish great things. I also hope that one day, when they finally realize that they, too, know nothing they will be surrounded by college kids who remind them of their limitations…and they will smile.
What would you add? Is there anything you miss from your college years?
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