Why college should not be the best time of your life

College is not the best time of your life, nor should it be. College is four years of hardship and struggle. We leave the forge of high school life to find ourselves in the crucible. Many students arrive and burn out within the first year, myself included. However, I had a realization: I was not ready for Tufts. So I used my Australian citizenship and worked for half a year in Sydney — a time in which I grew immensely. Then I returned to Tufts in Fall 2013 for the full academic year, and again, I grew. Tufts catalyzed my change, indirectly and directly, and I am grateful for it.

I was lucky. I was able to take such an opportunity; however, many students do not see that path or are discouraged from taking it. I firmly believe in the “gap year,” and the new encouragement from the Tufts administration for students to have such experiences is a positive force for the university. Done well, gap-year programs can give students the opportunity to develop their talents, personalities and perspectives.

As I have spent the past academic year at Tufts, I have noticed many students without plans for the future, without a forward-looking perspective and without long-term dreams. They find themselves bogged down by schoolwork, social troubles, emotional distress and more. This perspective — focusing on the flaws of the present and nostalgia for the past — leads to a negative outlook. To cope with these stresses, many students end up trying to drink their problems away. Drinking to excess is often considered an inherent, if not necessary, part of college, as are parties. I’m not criticizing drinking or parties, but I am saying that the meaning of college does not lie in the depths of a bottle or the fever pitch of a dance.

College should not be about staying in one’s comfort zone, trying to be perpetually happy or solely having fun. It should be a roller coaster ride with a positive trajectory. Sure, it has its ups and downs, but over the course of the ride we understand difficulties, evaluate solutions and grow to new heights. It is when we cease to see the bigger picture — when we lose sight of our own growth and focus only on who we were yesterday — that we see that trajectory slide downward. We need to see the bigger picture, the tapestry of our lives that we are weaving, consciously and unconsciously. We need to focus not only on studying and partying or networking, but on the greater experience. We need to grow.

High achievers are those who fought difficulties, made realizations, saw new paths and took the road that climbs up life’s mountain. Life is not easy. Nor should it be. Human beings grow through struggle, not complacency.

I sometimes hear others say that college is, or was, the best time of a person’s life. I do not envy them, because if those four years of life were the best, then their next 50 must be a disappointment. Look to your aspirations, your dreams and your ambitions for inspiration, because nostalgia cripples progress, and so does an obsession with living in the present. You only live once, so make the most of your life. College is an important stage of life, but even more important is the future. Don’t fall into complacency; don’t wallow in the past or the present. Go forward, young student, go forward, and conquer your future. Life is a tapestry that is ever-unfurling, a tapestry that only you can weave. Choose to weave it well. No one else will weave it for you.