My College Experience Was "Not Worth It." How I Turned Regret Into Post-Grad Prosperity

March 15, 2021

Entering adulthood, I had it worked up in my head college was a wonderland. College was a place young people found what makes them happy and sexy. Everyone on the show Greek seemed sexy, at least!

However, I questioned whether I would be capable of making the best of college. After 11 years (I skipped a grade) of doing it all for the “A,” I was sick of assignments and felt extremely de-motivated. I longed for the freedom to explore my true interests, to read and write from my own motivation. Yet, my free time kept filling itself up with online games and instant gratification. The seemingly paradoxical combination of procrastination and perfectionism followed my everywhere. It didn’t help that I had gender dysphoria and was very shy.

I knew there was whole life out there, just waiting for me to figure out how to actually live it…

My first go at a small local college was a bust. Honestly, I’d figured it would be. The people were great, but I quickly dropped out and took a year off. During this time though, self-help and a speech club I attended helped me start to find my voice. Soon, I felt ready to begin again as a freshman at Arizona State University in Tempe—a huge campus out of town that teemed with possibility. And I’d study Theatre! New school, new city, new major… I also promised myself that I would be a new person.

Sadly, for all 8 semesters my personal struggles kept me anxious, distracted, and disappointed I didn’t run after my dreams. I’d start each new semester thinking, This time I’ll be social! This time I’ll be present! This time I’ll pour my heart into every project, I’ll explore fun activities on campus, and I’ll truly live! I did come out as a trans woman partway through college, and I shared plenty of joyful moments with my theatrical peers and instructors. Still, I was embarrassed by how dysfunctional and halfhearted I felt. I’d often daydream through class and rush home just to binge-eat in front of my computer. I believed life could be so much more if I weren’t a “disorganized mess” and if I could actually apply myself 100%.

Okay, so it hurt that my semester bucket lists never came true. It hurt that I never quite “found myself” as a performer at ASU, nor did I make lifelong friends.

Over time though, I have realized how much energy I waste ruing the past. I’d rather feel good about my college days—like I did my best, have lived and have learned, and can create a full life for myself today and tomorrow! Going on 5 years now since I graduated, here’s what I’ve done so far to turn my college regret into post-grad prosperity. If you too have regretted a phase of your life that didn’t live up to your hopes, we’re obviously not alone. I hope my story soothes your past self’s sorrows, and helps you reflect on how the years ahead could be your best yet!

I got to go back to college in an unexpected way, and it was better than before

Within a year of graduation, I got my first gig doing what I was even more passionate about than theatre: helping animals who are victim to our food system. At ASU, I’d proudly handed out vegan leaflets a few times outside the library. Hey, that was one of the items on my bucket list I actually did check off! Now I was even more excited because it was time to take the plant-based message on Warped Tour!

Soon after that first gig, I wound up in California working for a ballot initiative to protect farmed animals from cruelty. Once I realized colleges were the best place to ask voters for signatures, I was in heaven… circling the giant trees of the grassy quad at SFSU… crossing bridges overlooking the breathtaking forest of UC Santa Cruz… frolicking near San Jose State’s mossy and majestic Tower Hall. I could go on and on about how mesmerized I was by each campus’s unique scenery.

People often mistook me for a student, but this was even better than the college I remembered. Rather than rushing from class to class, I roamed free, beaming warmth at everybody who passed while collaborating for a cause I believed in. It felt like I strangely belonged on each gorgeous campus with its beautiful people. There were hard days, but I’ll never forget what a once-in-a-lifetime experience it was to gather signatures at various colleges on behalf of farmed animals. The ballot measure became Prop 12, which passed the vote in 2018!

I let my theatrical instincts run wild in writing, and I’m using writing as a way to reclaim my intellect

It’s been ages since I acted, but over the past year I’ve become an online writer. My new craft expresses the same creative instincts that compelled me to study theatre. Writing is storytelling, and I constantly enjoy the delicious drama I get to bring to articles.

I do miss the math wiz I was in grade school, and I wish I’d taken on a brainiac minor or double major in college. However, writing is proving to be an intellectual rebirth. Picking my own topics, I’m motivated to do research and deepen my comprehension. College-educated or not, we can all be eager lifelong learners.

I finally got better at friendship; some new friends and I even started our own “sorority”

I figured Greek life wasn’t for me until my senior year at ASU. A sorority was tabling which advertised itself as transgender-inclusive. Dang, did I miss out?

No, because in 2020 something incredible happened. I asked for an accountability buddy in a Facebook group for writers. A bunch of ladies said yes, and we formed what became something of our own sorority.

We open up about our struggles and triumphs. We swap writing ideas, lend a hand with editing, meet virtually for games & gossip, and spam one another with positivity and acceptance. My comfort in this community makes the out-of-placeness I felt in my college years feel like old news! As I’ve matured into my late twenties, I’ve fortunately gotten better at making and maintaining friendships. I still make lots of social mistakes, but I laugh them off and forgive myself more easily.

I did journaling exercises to be at peace with my college days

Journaling helps me work through my college grief. Here are a few exercises I’ve done:

  • I journaled about my most awkward or painfully embarrassing moments. I’ll likely turn these into a comedy article to make others laugh or feel better about themselves.
  • I wrote about how I wish college had gone. Although that might sound like torture, it was actually a huge relief! Allowing myself to daydream about my idealized college experience was immensely cathartic. The exercise gave me clarity about how to make my post-grad life even sweeter than “college wonderland,” and how to avoid future regret!
  • I’m putting together a reverse bucket list of great memories and everything I’ve accomplished. Much of my college regret is merely a bias for the negative. There is so much to celebrate from my time at university and elsewhere.

Upon reflection, “college wonderland” was an illusion. I pieced together this fantasy from advertisements, juicy TV dramas, as well as being depressed in high school and equating college with freedom. The truth is: almost any phase of life can be made into a wonderful and wholehearted existence. While youth seems to be especially glamorized in modern culture, I watch myself gain wisdom and self-mastery with age. This maturity could help me create increasingly happy days no matter where life takes me in the future.

This year, I’m committed to looking cute and being patient with myself

I regret I didn’t declare my gender and switch to all women’s clothes until midway through college. But at 28, I still have heaps of wardrobe malfunctions and I struggle to stay well-groomed. To tackle this issue hopefully once and for all, I’ve decided to make fashion a major theme of my 2021. I think consistently looking sharp and feeling joyous in my clothes, hair, and makeup would be life-transformative!

It takes time to correct years of lazy habits and confront every element in my wardrobe that hasn’t been working. The payoff will be SO worth it. I may not have always looked cute for class, but I won’t care anymore if I know I’m being my sexiest self at 28 and beyond. There are additional lost dreams from college I’d love to redeem—like playing on the tennis team—so I’ll look forward to finding a new athletic community someday. For now, I’m content to focus on completing this fashion project first and being patient and self-compassionate at every step.

It’s too easy to get stuck on phases of life that didn’t meet our hopes. Relax, there is always life after _____! In my case, college was a letdown… until I reframed the experience. I can now appreciate how my post-grad ventures over the last 4–5 years have given me much of what I longed for as an awkward ASU student. And it’s only going to get better.

Thank you for hearing my story. No matter where we go, we will never stop learning, growing, and exploring fun bonds with other “sexy” humans!

Also by Phoenix: Video Chat App “Filter Off” Is Hosting Vegan Speed Dating. Here’s My Review

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Photo: Unsplash

Phoenix Huber
Phoenix Huber writes about personal growth, compassion for all, and daily vegan life. Based in Arizona, her hobbies include taking notes to remember her phone calls with friends, leaving effusive comments, and journaling. (She’ll get back to you once she finds some real hobbies that don’t involve writing.) An aspiring freelancer and researcher, Phoenix loves getting to amplify people’s messages of joy and kindness. Oh, and her family rocks! Find more articles from her on Medium.

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