Category Archives: college

19 Things I Learned In College (Among Many Others)

For most of this blog’s existence, I’ve learned things because I was in college. And it was hard. And it was painful. And it was stretching me more and more for real life.

Thankfully, I documented those lessons and typed them on web pages and pressed publish so no matter how much I would like to journal by hand, at least I have a record of what eye-opening moments showed up on my doorstep for three years.

Something told me you all might love some of that insight – especially if you’re in college or sinking waist deep into life.

1)    Work hard when you’re young and don’t ask for much in return.

2)    When you decide you want to change the world, make friends with TED.

3)    More stuff changes than stays the same. Be OK with that.

4)    Good books can (and should) be read in a weekend.

5)    Don’t forget, you’re worth loving.

6)    So is your body.

7)    From humility comes greatness.

8)    Celebrities, the good ones, are driven by love.

9)    Your children need guidance; beautiful, no-holds-barred guidance.

10) Everybody is bound to be a character in another writer’s novel someday, just as we are bound to be accidental extras in a tourist’s photograph.

11) Sometimes, all the food bloggers of the world get together and bake with more than flour + sugar in mind.

12) Fear stops us from being alive.

13) Being a nerd is freaking awesome.

14) You’re going on one really long, terribly winding, probably zigzagging journey. And your car salesman just wants you to know that.

15) You’ve got to hold some words like they’re currency in this broken life.

16) Love your friends really ridiculously hard.

17) Take the cupcake.

18) Use your voice.

19) And then do me a favor? Meet this girl. Her ratio of body mass to ounces of love is downright not mathematical.


One Question, 10 Answers: What’s The MOST Important Lesson You Learned In 2012?

I’m a big believer in life-long learning and, at times, a bit anxious about that statement. The truth is, these years we’re in right now are some pretty wild and tough ones. But we’re experiencing them on this vast spectrum and none of us can capture all the lessons ourselves. We’ve GOT to learn from others, too.

So I sent an email to people all over the country and in different places in their lives, some in school, some ready to find a job, some firmly rooted in a career and others feeling timid about how miserable they feel.

I asked them one question: What’s the MOST important lesson you learned in 2012? Here’s what they had to say.

1. Convention is overrated.


“I will have a TABLE of people at my some-day wedding that I met through Twitter, Facebook or email chains. I have met so many people who I consider to be important pieces of my life that I NEVER would have met if I were too skeptical to look outside of the ‘box’.

Also, that hard work will always, ALWAYS pay off. Always.” – @dmdgiants, senior at Marist College, intern with the New Jersey Devils

2. I am enough.


“On a particularly self-loathing day in 2012, I decided to do some research on positive mantras when I came across this one. For much of my life, my perfectionist self had struggled to be “the best” (whatever that means) and often compared my successes, and shortcomings, to others.

I work a nine-to-five at a software company only to come home after a yoga class, maybe a run and an hour commute to write away for whichever assignment I was lucky enough to receive. These days are trying; these days are long. I go to bed exhausted and hope to awake with renewed energy and strength.

I spent much of 2012 hoping for a better future – a better job (full of writing), a better outlook on life, a better me.

Then one day it hit me. I’m missing the best of today looking for a better tomorrow. I am missing the beautiful imperfections of the now in hopes for an impossibly flawless future.

I need nothing more than to be the ‘me’ I am today.

I am enough. And so are you.” – @taylornunez, Software specialist, freelance journalist for Worcester Magazine and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, yoga enthusiast

3. Make yourself happy.


“I learned last year that you have to make yourself happy, no one else will do that for you. Take time to do the small things that make you enjoy life, like reading a book or baking your favorite cookies. Take care of yourself because you can’t be the good in the world if you feel like crap.” – @cerogers0, graduate student at James Madison University, student teacher

4. Go four for four.


“1. You can and will make the same mistakes twice if you’re not careful. But you can also rebuild your life a thousand times over. Thankfully, there’s no limit on that.

2. Every single person has his or her own idea of what happiness, success and failure would look like in his/her life. Define yours and don’t compare yours to anyone else’s version.

3. Leave when you need to leave.

4. Twitter is a really excellent place to meet wonderful people.” – @clairembiggs, freelance writer for MTV Act

5. Find a hobby.


“Don’t be ashamed to live your college life on the couch, not going to class, eating bonbons and watching the Kardashians because that couch is the perfect training grounds for the soul-deadening desk job — in which you will spend 35 out of 40 hours of your working week alternately staring off into space and compulsively checking every manner of social media site and/or food blog — that awaits us all. But perhaps it’s important to find a hobby just to enliven your soul or alleviate boredom or some shit; mine is moonlighting as an ESL teacher.” – @samanthascotti, proofreader, ESL teacher

5. The Internet is a web.


“I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of a single connection to a person or organization because it can lead to even more connections and more opportunities for development.  The three online communities that I write for (HUGstronger, So Worth Loving, and The Write Teacher) are all things I found through The World Needs More Love Letters, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of them.

Related to that, I’ve also learned that making connections over the Internet is okay.  I think a lot of people are worried about the internet somehow making us less social or ruining our lives, but there’s a wealth of information, opportunity, and cool people out there on the World Wide Web.  It’s not a black hole of distraction if you use it right.” – @erind90, senior at Clarke University, blogger

6. Let love in.


“2012 taught me that it’s okay to let people love you. It’s okay to trust that you are lovable and intriguing and close to perfection for someone else. Don’t be scared to smile at a stranger- they could have a story you need to hear. Take the risk and email the girl whose blog you read – she could surprise you and reply (Thanks, Kaleigh for replying to my own email!). Let a boy ask you about the scars on your heart and tell him the truth- he could teach you what it’s like to feel a little bit closer to whole. And most of all, it’s okay to love yourself. Look in the mirror, smile and realize you are beautifully made. Love makes life, life.” – @lab54, photographer

7. Trust yourself.


“I think we have this tendency to second guess ourselves. Because of our age or where we are in life or because we’re just unsure of what will happen next. Trust that initial gut feeling though; it happens for a reason. Know that being young does not mean sacrificing confidence. Be bold, be curious, and be open to learning. Just trust yourself along the way as well – you’re capable of doing great things.

My P.S. lesson is that you should always invest time, love, and energy in people.” – @fiestaga, Outreach Coordinator for Reading Partners – Baltimore

8. You’ll survive the sting.


“One day, you’re going to have to leave behind all the magnificant-things-happening-at-this-moment-in-time for something even more wondrous. It’ll sting for a bit, but without moving forward, how will you bloom?” – @lovemesomebags, student at James Madison University, Chief Designer at Gardy Loo

9. Honesty is terrifyingly necessary.


“Honesty is an essential part of bravery. Be honest firstly with yourself. Don’t be afraid of who you are, what you want, and how you are feeling. After you can learn to be honest with yourself, you can be honest with those around you. Honesty can lead to some of the most terrifying moments for your soul, but they are moments that grow your soul and your relationships. Do not fear honesty. It is your companion and your victor.” – @livfierce, student and photographer

10. Love yourself first.


“I think that the most important lesson that people not only our age but every age can learn to is to love themselves. Our world can be cruel and cold (I know this too well) and too often do people let that affect the way they think about themselves, judging too harshly and beating themselves up. We spend so much time trying to be like other people we forget to be who we are but once you embrace who you are fully, it is beautiful and liberating and fearless. And yes everyone has insecurities, I will always think I have man shoulders, I don’t wear many hats because I think my head is too big, I think I am a little too messy and I wish I didn’t procrastinate so much. But when it comes down to it, none of that stuff matters because the truth is, I had to sit and think for 10 minutes to come up with those four things because instead I kept thinking that I like, no, LOVE that my eyes change different hues of blue and my hair is kind of out of control curly sometimes, that I speak my mind too often. I LOVE that I laugh too loud, and smile too big and I eat too much sugar. All things that could be listed as flaws but I just can’t see them that way.

So here’s the secret to being happy, to loving others and to success. Except it’s not so secret. Everyone from Maya Angelou to Albert Einstein to Lady Gaga can be quoted saying how important it is to love yourself. Because once you start those positive thoughts will consume you and radiate out of you. So you will be willing to risk, and change and take chances (which is my second most important piece of advice) because once you know how wonderful you are, others can’t help but see it too.” – Emily, student at Temple University, aspiring actress

It’s Warmer In The Future

It was only a year ago that I was feeling antsy about this real world lifestyle, knowing that working hard was a not a skill people put on resumes. I knew I would work tirelessly, that I would do anything I could to learn and grow and be someone worth putting faith into, but did the human resources professionals of the Eastern seaboard know that? Well, I wasn’t sure.

Yesterday, a friend of mine admitted to a fear quite similar. And as they say, it’s easier to look objectively from the outside in. I knew, deep down, she was golden. Just brimming with energy and passion and experience. Her resume, in the right hands, will be understood and appreciated.

This post I wrote nearly two years ago, for all the worriers and anxiety-ridden recent and future college graduates who have no idea what will become of their lives in these coming months.


The future is 34 pushpins pressed into a map of the United States.

It doesn’t matter how precisely we press each pin into that cork backing. The future is shy and unforgiving and anticipatory and utterly unknowable.

My roommate stood next to her map, cupped her forearms around a cluster of pins along the West coast.

“Probability says California,” she said to me.

I nodded, trying to imagine her in the sunny state, me in New York City and our other roommate in Washington, DC.

I couldn’t.

It’s funny how one home transitions into another. In five years, I have found myself in Pennsylvania and Virginia, New Jersey and Maryland. Looking back, it’s seamless. But when I was at the edge of each cliff, eager and nervous to jump, it was like the first time I realized the world was in constant motion.

For all those moments leading up to a big, shifting change, we’re too busy preparing and pushing onward to think about what happens when our parents unload the trunk and cart our luggage up stairs and shut the door, leaving us alone for the first time.

For three years and eight months, the idea of graduating college is just that – an idea. And then, someone pulls out the big G word and it’s everything again.

We feel it rising up from the pit in our stomachs like a wave of nausea forcing you to sit down and center yourself on that pushpin-invested map. Begging you to regain balance and stability for just a while longer.

“Where will I be in the future?” we wonder.

“You’ll live on the lake,” I told her then. “I can picture it.”

And I could, then. The forests rising up on three sides. A vast expanse of murky water in front of her. The laughter of children in the background.

I saw her stretch out on the shoreline, digging her toes into the grass and dirt. I saw her put down her book to crane her neck, motioning her daughter to come to her.

“Do you want to go for a swim?” she asked.

The girl, her hair as white-blonde as her mother’s, nodded vehemently and tugged her t-shirt over her head.

She reached the line where the water meets land, lifted one foot, and frowned.

“What’s wrong?” her mother asked.

The girl shook her head and started back toward the spot on the grass where her mom stretched out.

“It’s too cold,” she said.

Her mom sets her book down. “How do you know?”

She shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t know.

“Come on.”

The two of them walked to the edge. Holding hands, they took a deep breath and waded, gently, into the murky water. A fish swam past and the little girl squealed, latching onto her mother’s leg.

After a moment, she released her grasp. She waded out farther and, without warning, dove under the water. When she emerged, she brushed her hair back and giggled.

“Brrr,” she said. “It’s warmer in the water.”

It’s the first moment that will string together a couple thousand others. The initial shock of icy water filling her lungs grew into a comfort. It’s warmer in the water. What once was cold and terrifying and new became familiar and wanted.

Only one of those pushpins became home for my roommate. She did not, contrary to probability, end up anywhere near California. But where she lives now, there is a lake with icy water. And try as she might, she won’t be able to emerge without shivering. She’ll learn, in these few years, it’s warmer in the water.

Carry him in your pocket.

Dear Eilis,

Last night, sitting in the passenger’s seat of my best friend’s car, parked halfway inside my driveway, I wrestled with the idea of losing a father.

I don’t know how we ended up at that table, hammering hope into regret, but I think I know where it began.

At the tail end of 2003, when funerals were for the movies. When, six months before, a motorcycle accident was the closest some of us had come to saying goodbye. Back then I learned to hate the number 13.

So when, that same year, I spent the 13th of December learning that the world did, in fact, keep rotating on its axis while sixty or seventy preteen girls sniffled and sobbed on either side of me, I started toying with that idea of losing a father. A fourth father, perhaps, if I counted them right.

The Father I read about in books.

The man who named me. Who held me when I was just the length of his forearm. Who worried I’d never be bigger, grow stronger, if my mother didn’t write down every ounce of food I ate.

The man who held me and my sister to his chest on Sunday mornings as people filed out of wooden doors on either side of us, stumbling down red velvet stairs, whispering to Please Be Good For Your Parents This Week, OK?

And then this man. The one who taught me lessons every afternoon. Who looked after me long before he had a daughter of his own. Long before he never got the chance to hold her in his arms or look her in the eyes or dance at her wedding to Butterfly Kisses after Midnight Prayers to Father Nos. 1 & 3.

I have a feeling your father took the pieces of 1, 2, 3 & 4 and threaded them together. Piece by piece. Heartstring by heartstring.

And as you jump from one lily pad to the next, fumbling for your balance, I know it seems near impossible to land correctly without his hand stretched out to steady you. I know how it feels when you’ve never felt too good at this whole Life thing, this whole Change thing, this whole New thing, and he has always had your back. The perfect words when you fall on the floor.

And then, in a flash, he slides the cushion out from under your feet and whisks away to someplace else. Someplace that’s Gone far away.

I know it. So badly. Know the tears that last for hours as everyone says how wonderful he was, how it is such a shame to see him go so soon.

But I want you to know this: I believe in angels.

I see his eyes and his smile in the photos of his daughter sitting in a card from his mother, a woman who hung through pregnancy and grief all at the same time, just two weeks of We’re In This Together before his car smashed itself into the road and left her alone, holding out for the baby he left her to love.

He was my Father No. 4 for six years, the one I spent the most time with. The only one who never did the leaving. No, no, that was my job. Until, one day, it wasn’t. Until, one day, he didn’t show up for practice, to steady my balance on the wooden beam, to catch my flailing limbs when I smacked onto the ground.

Your dad is up there, hands on his knees, watching you from the sidelines of life. He’s in your smile and your eyes and the way that you carry yourself from this lily pad to the next. He is right here, right inside you, right where you can always keep him close.

And he’s not going anywhere. He’s left you with his words and his heart and his love. For you to take and spin into something wonderful, something he would have loved, with this next chapter in your book.

Carry him in your pocket. Unfold his words like roads on a map. Trace the outline of your smile and see his love in the corners of your eyes.

It is there. No matter where you position yourself on this Earth. He’s there.


Note: Eilis lost her father two years ago. She’s graduating high school, jumping into college life, and needs your words. Want to write to her? You’ve got until June 5.

When her hands keep shaking. When her fingers start texting The Ones Who Broke Her.

Her hand is on the other side of the doorknob when I open it and trudge inside for the last time.

And already I know she has been waiting two and a half years. Already I know she has words for me.

And me for her. Man, I could stack words on words on words and punch through that front door with an army of Here’s How It Feels and This Is What You Do Now.

Because I know those phrases well. And I’ve been carrying them in my backpack for those two and a half years, waiting for her to ask The Broken One how she glued her hipbones and heartstrings back together. Why she didn’t need a glass of wine to make Friday come sooner or wake before Saturday turned itself into afternoon without her eyelids ever fluttering open.

Why my mirror is papier-mâchéd with sticky note reminders and hers is filled with fragments of the person she doesn’t think she’ll ever find again, buried beneath the rubble of someone else’s sad sad story.

And so I begin.

I set my baggage by her feet and tell her she is strong & independent & motivated.

But I’ll be living in this house alone.

You don’t have to tell me. I am just thinking maybe starting over means something will happen. I was just thinking I have my whole life to fall in love.

But I need a distraction.

Strong. Independent. Motivated. & Beautiful.

Not anymore, she says.

I want her to know that Alone doesn’t have to feel like a prison sentence. That, in a week, I will snuggle up to Alone like a cold blanket and try not to shiver in my new apartment.

But it’s not Alone that she’s afraid of. It’s being The Broken One in a house without an Unbroken One to hold her close when the tears won’t stop. When the hands keep shaking. When her fingers start texting The Ones Who Broke Her.

That’s what Alone does to us. It pushes us away from Strong & Independent & Motivated and forces us to play hide-and-seek for the person we want to find again.

The Unbroken One.

I tell her she’s got to hug Alone close, take it by the hand, and find herself again. Got to learn stability and happiness and hope for a better tomorrow that doesn’t include Him & His Broken Promises & Him & His Ambiguous Responses.

It’s the hardest lesson.

Two and a half years of hard lessons stuck to our linoleum floor.

And I am leaving her Alone in this house with the lessons by her feet. Hoping she holds them. Hoping she navigates back to herself. Hoping she remembers why she is Beautiful & Strong, Independent & Motivated.

I know she wants my ears to listen. Eyes to see. A heart to feel her pain in this living room that’s witnessed too many heartbreaks. Too many regretted text messages.

So for now, we’ll be Alone Together. Alone and Once Broken, but now healed.

Now working toward heartbeats that aren’t afraid to fall out of sync and lists that don’t include Listen to Sad Songs & Eat Ben & Jerry’s & Wait For Alone To Feel A Little Less Alone. Wait for this couch to hold more than salty tears and red cheeks.

You got this, girl. You got this so good. You had my back & now I’ve got yours.