Simple but Indispensable Advice for College Students

College Students,

In the bullet points that follow, I’m going to share some advice that could change the trajectory of your life. None of what follows is in the category of world-view, “rocket science”, or ground-breaking. These suggestions are small, simple, practical, but the first piece of advice is…well, you’re in college, you can read. I make no claim to be wise, nor have I mastered all the items on the list. Full disclosure: the last two items are a little more than a bullet point.

  • Little things matter. What you consider to be a small or insignificant act (even forgettable), may be the thing that makes the greatest impression upon an acquaintance, boss, friend, or professor. Teachers spoke words into my life that changed me forever, and when I went back to thank them, they had no memory of the event. The decision to calendar appointments and tasks seems like a small change, but it may save your job.
  • Immediately write thank you notes to people who have done good for you. Not an email. Not a text. Not a FB post. Use a pencil, paper, and give details. Similarly, acknowledge the grief of those who suffer with a note or visit, whichever is appropriate.
  • Each semester make at least one scheduled visit to your professor for help. It will demonstrate to her that you care.
  • When you’re with others, be fully present with them. In other words, stay off of your phone. Nothing says, “You all bore me,” like the person staring at their mobile device in the presence of others. When I am with others, I only answer my phone if I have a call from my wife or son.
  • Don’t put your dirty laundry on social media.
  • When you mess up, make apologies quickly and take full responsibility without an iota of rationalization, justification, blaming or prevarication. “I’m sorry that you’re offended,” is not an apology.
  • Be just as quick to forgive. Unmerciful people rarely enjoy mercy.
  • Be direct. Passive aggressive behavior is galling and ineffective.
  • People like to be around positive people. Complaining, negativity, and whining feel good but it pushes people away. People have enough crap to deal with. Make them glad to be around you.
  • Do windows. In other words, surprise your boss, professor, landlord, et al by doing more than you’ve been asked—by exceeding their expectations.
  • Be fastidious regarding grammar and spelling. Like it or not, many people still care about these things and make snap judgments when they hear or read statements like:
    • I don’t have no (good grammar)…
    • I’m loosing my mind.
    • There grammar is better than ours.
    • Congradulations. Thankyou. Alot.
    • Davids grammar is amazing.
    • Your not going to hire me are you.
    • Im going to regret this bullet point because I know someones going to corrct my spelling or grammar on this list.
  • No meaningful controversy has ever been resolved on Facebook. Resist the urge to contribute to these posts.
  • Wait 48 hours before quitting or firing off an angry email, post or letter.
  • Difficult or sensitive conversations should happen face to face. The written word fails to communicate facial expressions and nuances in tone and is susceptible to misinterpretation.
  • Go out of your way for someone else at least once a day and with no expectation of reciprocation.
  • After the party, the adults help the host clean up, and kids stand around and watch adults clean up. You’re the adult.
  • When someone is giving you instructions, write those instructions down: A) this increases the possibility that you will follow said instructions and B) it demonstrates to the other person that you care.
  • Get organized. Put it away. The average American loses 150 hours a year looking for lost items.
  • Use great discernment in discussing politics.
  • Don’t get drunk. Nothing good can come of it and 1000 calamities can result. You can feel sober as a judge and still be over the limit.
  • Guys (mostly), pornography reduces women to an object whose only purpose is to satisfy your desire. It reduces your ability to be intimate (not just sexually intimate, but a man who is gentle, thoughtful and present with a woman). Just don’t.
  • Going to college is a huge transition, and it’s normal to get overwhelmed and anxious during times of transition. If you’re feeling that way, ask for help.
  • Call your mom and dad. It’s a huge transition for them too.
  • The wrong thing done right is still the wrong thing.
  • Give a firm handshake—not a bone-breaker or a dead fish—with good eye contact.
  • Calendar important events and appointments and set your mobile device with reminders. Look at your calendar at the start and end of every day.
  • Tardiness kills. Showing up late is not a little thing in the real world.
  • Halitosis kills.
  • Be generous with encouragement and stingy with criticism.
  • It’s great to be a part of the latest noble crusade, but:
    • not all crusades are noble.
    • the truly noble crusade may not be the wisest investment of your time.
  • Slander will come back to bite you, but you’ve nothing to lose by speaking well of others.
  • Write a paper entitled, “My Calling.” The paper should describe as specifically as possible, the vocation that you are pursuing, as well as the reasons that you believe this is the best vocation for you. Include the abilities, passions, experiences, personality traits and natural gifts that support your decision. When the going gets tough, the tough go back and read their calling paper to remind themselves of their dream and the reasoning behind their dream. Your calling paper may keep you from quitting. Alternately, this exercise my open your eyes to a different possibility. If you are pursuing a degree in electrical engineering, and you absolutely hate math and physics and all studies related to engineering, you may decide to consider a different path.
  • If you hope to be married some day, write a bullet point paper similar to this one that lists all the attributes you want in a spouse. The heading of one list should be Non-negotiable. These are the attributes you must have. Be specific. My faith is important to me, so my non-negotiable list included “Devoted Christ-follower.” I wanted to marry someone who wanted to have children, was generally happy, compassionate, healthy in their interpersonal relationships with others, and wise in terms of money and spending. I wanted to marry someone who valued learning and humor. (By the way, I got everything I wanted and more). Those were all in the non-negotiable list. The negotiable list includes attributes that might be nice, but weren’t mandatory: likes to travel, a good cook, enjoys movies. My negotiable list may be your non-negotiable list and vice-versa. That’s not the point. The point is compatibility matters. Marriage is hard when the other person doesn’t value the things you value most. If you are intentional about finding a compatible spouse, your chances of enjoying a happy marriage are better. Finally, after you’ve made your list, ask yourself, “Does this list describe me? Am I kind? Compassionate? Financially healthy?” If not, become the person on your list.
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