Older & Wiser? What I Actually Learned in College

Rachel Madden
5 min readDec 14, 2021

Spoiler: it wasn’t from the classes I paid an arm & leg for.

Stillwater, OK | Photo by Holly Madden

At high school graduation, I accidentally sat for too long without moving, and my left leg fell asleep. Then I had to walk the stage.

So yeah, that was a struggle.

I learned from my mistake when I walked the stage at Oklahoma State University. I managed to walk normally to get my diplomas. I’m now a college grad.


The past 3.5 years of college have flown by.

I turned in papers, read textbooks, created presentations and lost my voice yelling at football games. I pulled a few all-nighters, went on fun trips, and braved a global pandemic (cheers to Zoom classes).

Although I’ve now spent time and money (lots of that, believe me) learning graphic design, marketing theory, AP writing style, and videography, the biggest hurdles weren’t academic. They were things like figuring out how to adult, what to prioritize, what to believe and how to live.

I learned a few things the hard way, which is why they are so important to me. Here are three things I learned in college:

  • Success is overrated.
  • I don’t have all the answers.
  • Hold onto the right things.

Let’s jump in.

Success is overrated.

Bold claim, I know. Here’s what I mean.

Without realizing it, I had borrowed a lot of ideas from the world about where my identity and value come from.

I thought my value could come from good grades, approval of people I respect, from a marriage, or from the family I’m part of.

As it turns out, falling for those ideas about success is a bad idea.

In college, I worked hard on good grades. But there was always more to do. It’s a treadmill of one-upping, goal-setting and awards that just gather dust on a shelf.

I valued the opinions of professors, advisors and bosses. But even when I had approval, it never satisfied. I ended up more insecure than whole.

I think marriage is really cool, but I didn’t find a husband in college. I’m still looking to return that idea I bought that we’ll go to college and get married, that being in a relationship = wholeness. I want my money back on this one.

I love my family and am grateful for who we are. But, we’ve also changed a lot these past few years. Shifting dynamics sometimes made it feel like the bottom fell out of that family identity.

The success of the world is so shallow, friends. It can’t hold the weight of our identity and value.

Stillwater, OK | Photo by Holly Madden

I don’t have all the answers.

College is a time of learning new perspectives outside the hometown bubble.

This is a growing thing, but it can also be knowledge that leads to arrogance. To compound the issue, social media often exacerbates the problem of me thinking I’m an expert by giving us platforms to shout from.

During college, a lot happened.

A global pandemic, racial justice movement, divisive presidential election, mass exodus from evangelical circles, and chaos of quarantining, masking, vaccines and more.

At first, I spent time arguing and being outraged that other people were always so wrong (or so I thought).

Finally wearied with it all, I stopped talking long enough to realize that I do not have all the answers. I think all the books, podcasts, blogs, and videos may sometimes be helpful, but they certainly don’t make me an expert.

In fact, the more I learned, the less I talked.

Humility always beats winning.

When I got off Twitter and into the living rooms of older believers, I began to see that it’s ok to not have all the answers. It’s in those real life conversations that I was challenged, held accountable, forgiven, encouraged and inspired.

I’ve decided to start with humility, rather than assuming I’ve got all the answers.

It’s a big weight off your shoulders when you realize you don’t have all the answers, so you don’t have to worry about changing the whole world. Take it from someone sore from trying.

Hold onto the right things.

You might be thinking, “Rachel must have just thrown up her hands, called everything grey and decided truth and right answers are impossibilities.”

I promise I haven’t. In fact, my convictions about some very specific truths have deepened more than ever.

I’ve decided to hold tight to three things — Jesus, His Word, and the local church.

First, Jesus. In a world full of smoke and mirrors, Jesus will not be manipulated into a Jesus convenient for my worldview or beliefs. He has made a way for all that is wrong to be made right through His life, death, resurrection and return. If He really beat death, He is worth giving my whole life to.

Second, the Word. The Bible isn’t popular right now, and I get why. It calls us to submit to God’s design for life even when it rubs me the wrong way. I’m committed to understanding who God is and what His expectations are as revealed in the Bible. As a follower of Jesus, what it says goes, even when it’s hard.

Third, the local church. It’s popular to bash the church, and I get that too. The church, both historically and presently, has failed in some big ways. But, as a believer, I’m part of that church. And I have failed in some big ways too. Thankfully, instead of giving up, Jesus is committed to His bride. And if Jesus is, so am I.

I’m committed to the local church here. When we bash “the church”, faces come to my mind, not a voting bloc. It’s real people with real, complicated, beautiful lives. I’m showing up to serve, to be honest, to ask questions, to be accountable and to work out my faith alongside this family.

Other, lesser things matter, to be sure. A word of caution though:

Be careful the things you have a death grip on are actually worth dying for.

Jesus, His Word and the local church are, so I’m holding tight.

College has truly been transformative for me.

I’ve grown up in so many ways. I’ve learned so much. I’ve had some hard moments and some beautiful, rewarding ones.

I pray that I would be someone who doesn’t fall for the world’s definition of success, that humility would be my posture, and that I would always hold tight to the right things, no matter what comes.

Cheers to college and to God’s faithfulness in the next season.

— Rachel

Thank you so much for reading!

My hope is that you might be encouraged & challenged, and that these pieces might spark life-giving conversations. I would love to hear from you and connect, so shoot me a message on Instagram or Facebook, or leave a response to this piece. I look forward to connecting!

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Rachel Madden

expert in laughing at all my own jokes. rookie adult. lover of puns & fun. follower of Jesus.