Jenna Thompson

Dear reader,

I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but life is short.

I’ve always known this at a surface level. I think back on my high school days like they were yesterday, and I’m constantly confused as to how I’ve been at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for three years already. Who let me become an adult, and since when was my little brother twice my size? People I grew up with are getting engaged and married, and I remember them as awkward pre-teens.

The years rush by so quickly, but it wasn’t until recently that the reality of life’s brevity really sunk its teeth into my skin. I was talking with my grandma over break, and in a casual way she said something I’d heard from older people dozens of times: “I remember being your age; enjoy your life, because it really does go by fast.” And I started to realize she was right.

To me, time seems like a leaky faucet. My elementary days were creeping drips, coming out slowly and carefully, one drop at a time. After I passed middle school the water pressure amped up. Since moving out of my parents’ house, the years have been pouring out, flooding rooms and soaking floors like someone ripped the spigot off completely.

Though I’m not proud to admit it, I’ve wasted a lot of precious hours during my college years, and it’s time I can’t get back. Unlike the fast-fashion brand that sells tacky graphic tees, I’m not going to be forever 21. One day I’ll wake up with wrinkles and creaky knees, and I don’t want to regret how I spent my days pre-arthritis.

I know it sounds cliche, but I don’t want to waste hours a day anymore looking at my phone on social media platforms I hate while fretting about headlines I can’t change. I’ve made a lot of resolutions to spend less time on the internet, but nothing has stuck yet. I’ll let you know if I figure out a solution any time soon.

I’ll also be the first to tell you that I can spend countless hours worrying about things that won’t matter in a few years, months or even weeks. This has been my most stubborn trend.

In high school, I thought every embarrassing moment, failed romance and bad grade was the end of the world. As easy as it is for me to ruin a whole day by being distraught over something minor, I’m trying to step back and remember all the times I thought a trivial situation would undo me — and look, I’m still here. The sun does continue to come up after you’ve had your heart broken or made a complete fool of yourself in gym class.

What have I never regretted doing? Taking a spontaneous trip, forgoing studying to be impulsive with a friend, telling someone how I feel or taking a risk to do something out of character — even when it didn’t pay off how I expected. The times I didn’t play it safe are where I’m most proud of myself. At least I did something, right?

With my remaining three college semesters, I don’t want to waste all my time in my usual social bubble. I take a while to get comfortable around people, and it’s probably my least favorite personality trait. I say I prefer relationship depth over quantity — which is partially true — but I think it can also be an excuse for me to keep at ease. College allows you to constantly meet and be surrounded by new people. As much of a stretch for me as it may be, I want to be a little more vulnerable and put myself out there.

I also want to have more fun. I’ve never looked back and wished I spent less time with friends or passed up the opportunity to do something crazy. Not every moment of your college experience is going to be spent belly laughing on the floor with your favorite people until the early morning, but those are some of my favorite memories, and I want to make more of those before I graduate.

Life is hilarious, and I don’t want to miss the chance to crack up at the little things, like a quirky professor, the kid in my Zoom class who wears a different animal onesie every day or my dad chasing a bat out of my house with a broom in the middle of the night. You might not be laughing, but if you knew him you would be.

Additionally, I think your college years can be incredibly character-shaping and formative, especially if you take the time to explore and investigate your personal beliefs. Why are we here? Does how we spend our time matter? Answering these questions now can set you on the trajectory for the rest of your life. The big questions are almost always uncomfortable to ask, but I can’t think of anything more meaningful to consider.

I’ve never regretted the time I spent seeking God, asking questions about what I believe and exploring my faith. If you wonder about the universe like I do, don’t ignore your curiosity. I think we’re meant to think about these types of things.

I’m not a plumber. I can’t fix a leaky sink, just like I can’t stop time from speeding up. Aging is inevitable, and I won’t be in school much longer. Soon I’ll be looking back on my life telling some newly 21-year-old the same thing my grandma told me. But soon isn’t today, and I still have a little bit of time left until then. With that time, I resolve to use it boldly, wisely and maybe even a little wildly.

If you’re reading this, even if you’ve surpassed your college years, you have some time left, too. I’m not sure how much, but it’s something. Don’t waste it.

Recovering from my worst existential crisis since 2018,