Dad’s “Sage” Advice for Freshman Success at College – 2020 Edition

As I resume regular blogging, this topic seems to be on everyone’s mind. Everyone should be “back” by now, so as we move farther in the fall, it’s time for my annual advice post. I think we all sympathize with our new (and returning) collegiate students as their college experience will definitely be different! I’ve added a little to this annual post to account for the uniqueness of navigating 2020.

Hey Freshman: Granger Smith says “Put a Penny On Sully”

1. Be Smart About Safety, Be Courteous

  • There’s a lot of people who have opinions about “the virus” but there’s no substitute for common sense and common courtesy.
  • Prioritize your confidence in people who have experience in medicine, epidemiology, and public health over the dude with a Facebook page and clever memes
  • Wash your hands, wear a mask when appropriate, and avoid crowds when you can
  • Be respectful of others. You really have no idea what their level of comfort or personal health risks are, respect that others will be making different risk decisions than you, and don’t judge them for it.
  • Stick to your guns. You’ll likely get a lot of peer pressure to “conform” or do something you’re not comfortable doing. Resist that pressure and make decisions for your safety and security.

2. Stay Healthy: Mentally, Physically, Spiritually

  • You’ll get a mental workout at college, and remember that’s what you’re there to do. However, don’t forget to look for ways to learn new things outside the classroom–and make an effort to keep yourself mentally healthy by taking advantage of lecture series, plays, sporting events, etc.
  • Good physical health is crucial to good mental health. Work hard, but make time to exercise, get enough sleep, and eat properly. There won’t be enough gas in the tank for those occasional all-nighters if you don’t take care of the engine.
  • Stick with whatever spiritual practices you’ve grown up with, whether that’s regular worship at your local church/synagogue/mosque or just spending quiet time watching the sun come up. Many college students believe they’re on their own and they don’t have to tend to their spirit, but spiritual health is just as important as your mental and physical health. You’ll do a lot of growing in the next four years, and there will be considerable stress from school, relationships, and life in general so don’t add unnecessary stress to your life by removing the spiritual center you depend on (whether you know it or not!). Do work at an adult understanding of your faith and spirituality, but don’t abandon it. Bottom line here: if you’re using your religious practice as a means of rebellion against your parents or someone else–pick a different rebellion. You’ll only be harming yourself.

3. Make New Friends, Eat Your Lunch, and Drink Your Water.

  • This is the advice my son gave me every day as I left for work when we lived in San Antonio, and since it makes the same good sense for you that it for me did in 1994 I’m loaning it to you.
  • Don’t be a cave dweller.  It’s easy to remain locked away in your dorm room for four years making excellent grades and few friends…resist the urge. “To everything there is a season…” 
  • Make friends who aren’t like you. You don’t have to agree on everything or be the same in order to develop a friendship. Obviously, you should be true to your values and beliefs–never compromise those–but you can and should be friends with people who aren’t like you.
  • Seek out opportunities to include people who seem marginalized by the group. Don’t make this a crusade – some people just like being solitary or around others who are like them – but make an effort to be a person who draws people together.
  • Try at least three new things your freshman year: join a club, go to a rally, see a play, go to a football game, take a road trip, enter a contest. Don’t let the experience of college life be so big that it overwhelms you.  Challenge the experience to make you a better person. Obviously this is more difficult in the current environment, but do your best.

4. Be Careful What You Choose, You May Get It

  • This warning isn’t a caution against taking chances; I encourage you to take (reasonable) risks.  What it does mean is starting with the end in mind, even visualizing it as a fait d’accompli, is an excellent way to discern if you really want something, or you’re merely dreaming; then make a plan to get there.

5. “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” (h/t RAF)

  • Success usually goes to the one who is prepared and has asked the question, “what can go wrong here?” Plan for and expect success, but don’t be crushed by failure.  The only real failure is quitting; never quit.

6. Guard Your Chastity

  • I know this sounds very old fashioned, but remember you’re there to get an education, not find a mate or a date. You may feel like you’re the last, or only, virgin on campus. Don’t believe the lie!  Do yourself and your future spouse a favor by remaining chaste.  If you do, you’ll then be free to give your spouse what you’ve saved only for her or him. Morals aside, respect the power of sex and leave it for later…there will be plenty of time.
  • If for some reason you are unsuccessful, or if you haven’t remained chaste before, see #2 above.

7. Sit In The Front Three Rows, Ask Questions, And See The Prof At Least Once In His Office (or on Zoom)

  • This is probably the best advice I received from my upperclassmen at Texas A&M.  Not only does it endear you to the prof and put you in prime “question” space, it enables you to see without dodging tall people’s heads and hair bows.
  • More than once a prof gave me the benefit of the doubt because he knew me personally.
  • If you’re not going to class in person, make an effort to be more than just a face on the screen: ask questions, engage in the chatroom, see the prof during his/her office hours.

8. Have A Regular Schedule

  • The monastic religious orders and the military share a penchant for routine because it’s effective at training your mind to remember things, and to help develop habits of “life-balance” for your mind, spirit, and body.
  • You don’t have to be rigid about it, things come up, but having “reveille” and “taps”, “morning and evening prayer”, “workout time”, meals, and “study time” at regular intervals helps you stay balanced, fresh, and focused.  Also, practically speaking it’s also much easier to deviate from a plan than to attempt to form a new one from scratch at short notice.
  • This is particularly important when you’re not in a physical classroom. Having a regular schedule helps you know when your day begins and ends, rather than just an endless Zoom session.

9. Ask For Help When You Need It

  • Everybody needs help from time to time. Don’t be bashful about asking for help from Mom & Dad, from your priest, from friends, etc. Filter advice according to the source.
  • What you got you here won’t necessarily make you successful here. College isn’t the 13th grade…there are many more demands on you, and the University and others expect you to fully transition to independent adulthood while you’re here. At 18, you’re no longer a “kid”: you can vote, bear arms for your country, and legally make decisions on your own. You don’t have to do it all at once, so pace yourself.

10. Communicate

  • Keep your family in the loop with your victories and your struggles. As your parents and your family, we are excited to see you thrive on your own but we never stop being your mom and dad. We don’t want to run your life, but we want to continue to be a part of it. Call, Zoom, IM, Skype, email, text, tweet–whatever–but know you remain in our heart forever.

Mickey is an expert in leadership and organizational change. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. Mickey now works with clients around the country to improve performance and help organizational transformation. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC. Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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