Christa Woodall (far left) sits with the staff at the Daily Universe.
Christa Woodall (far right) sits with the staff at The Daily Universe. (Photo courtesy Christa Woodall)

Dear incoming freshman for the fall of 2014,

Congratulations! Welcome to adulthood and to college. The years immediately ahead will be among the best of your life. Never again will you have so many opportunities open to you. It’s limitless! You get to choose a profession and possibly a spouse, and, most importantly, you get to discover who you really are, apart from high-school cliques, labels and even your own family. It’s an incredible experience, and I hope that you make the most of it.

I was in your shoes 14 years ago. Here are some words of wisdom I wish I’d known back then:

1. Network, network, network

Little did I realize at 21 how much my summer as an editor at The Daily Universe would drive my entire career forward — and not because it was good on a résumé. More than half of my career moves came from friends I met there, including getting on the staff of UtahValley360.com.

Take time to make friends in your major. Having friends on the same career path at roughly the same point is invaluable when you need a second opinion or someone who can relate to a crazy day in your profession from an insider’s perspective.

2. Enjoy the flexibility and free time while you can

I remember a friend’s mom saying I’d never have so much free time again. I thought she was so wrong. Classes, homework, working out, a job, a calling, a social life — I barely had a moment to breathe! I think what she meant, though, was that you’ll never have so much flexibility and control over your schedule again, and she was right. Enjoy the variety you get throughout the day of classes, including seeing friends around campus. It’s way more fun than sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week.

3. Make new friends, but keep the old

When my high school friends and I came to college together from Los Angeles, we all enjoyed establishing independent lives freshman year. It was so exciting to meet new people and to get a fresh start. From sophomore year on, though, we balanced staying close with doing our own things, and we enjoyed making even more new friends through each other’s new circles. To this day, my three best friends I met at 13 are still my best friends in the world, and there’s something priceless about having that foundation of friends who know your story because they were there through it all.

4. Dive into life beyond the library

While at BYU, we joked that the motto of “The World Is our Campus” should’ve been “The Campus Is our World.” It gets easy to get sucked into a routine, but make sure to look up from those books sometimes and take advantage of the amazing place where you live. Utah Valley rocks!

There are world-class activities for any interests, from ice climbing Bridal Veil Falls to skiing at Sundance to hiking somewhere on Mt. Timpanogos. If you’re more artsy, head to downtown Provo for the First Friday Art Stroll or a concert at Velour. Foodies can find paradise along Center Street these days. Orem and Provo both have libraries with amazing lectures and other fun activities. Also be sure to check out the events calendar at other universities around here — both have tons going on. There’s no excuse for limiting your calendar to bowling at Fat Cats and eating Café Rio ad nauseum. Get out there and explore this great valley.

Christa Woodall helped her roommates build a snow wall over her FHE brothers' door while studying at BYU.  (Photo courtesy Christa Woodall)
Christa Woodall helped her roommates build a snow wall over her FHE brothers’ door while studying at BYU. (Photo courtesy Christa Woodall)

5. Dare to push past your comfort zone

One of my favorite college memories is the night my friends and I stayed up all night building a 2-foot-thick wall of snow over our FHE brothers’ front door and then waiting up to see their reactions in the morning when they tried leaving for class. HILARIOUS in and of itself, but what makes it even better is that anyone who knows me knows I’m no prankster. Don’t limit yourself by saying “I can’t” or “that’s not me.” Why not? Loosen up and live beyond your boundaries, and you just might uncover a self you never knew was in there under all the walls, masks and insecurities.

6. Seek out service

College gets busy, and it’s easy to get so wrapped up in your own world that you’re oblivious to others’ needs. That hectic schedule only gets worse, though, as you add in the demands of a career and family. Start now to make service a habit in your life, from listening to your roommate who’s having a rough day to bringing cheer to patients at the hospital or a local nursing home. There’s no better gift than to give of yourself and your time. I promise it’s more important than your to-do list.

7. Attitude is everything

Life’s a mixed bag of good and bad moments. We can’t control what happens, but we can control how we react to it and how we let it affect us. Life’s a lot happier when you seek out the sunshine instead of storms. Learn to carry a proverbial umbrella just in case! As a classic old song says, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch onto the affirmative — don’t mess with Mr. In-between.”

8. You are so much more amazing than you even comprehend

When I look back at pictures of college-aged Christa, I just want to give her a hug. All through college I felt so unsure of myself in every way possible — my intelligence, my beauty, my value as a human being. If there was one thing I would change, it would be to go back and BELIEVE in myself — and, from there, to just relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the journey. Life can be so full of fun and possibilities when you let it!

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