Part Five: Remove Toxic Relationships from Your Life
Welcome back to the ultra-fabulous 2023 edition of How to Succeed in College. In previous parts, we’ve covered the success mindset, working smarter not harder, wellness, and being an active agent in your own education. Today, we’re talking about something that may not initially seem to be totally related to being successful in college: Your relationships to other people, and learning how to say “no.”
Being successful in college doesn’t mean you’ll get along with everybody.
In college, as in life, you’re bound to encounter people who are difficult to work with or just plain toxic. You have to learn how to set boundaries and protect yourself from these negative influences. College can be a frustrating mix of making a lot of choices on your own, and not having a lot of choices: You can make your own schedule somewhat, but you might not get to pick who you live with, who you have to work with, or who you have to answer to. How can you balance all these needs with the intrinsic human desire to have friendships and other relationships?
How to Succeed in College by Saying No
Starting college puts a lot of new people in your life. Sometimes you’ll make fast friends, only to discover that they’re a bit toxic once you get to know them better: Maybe you have a new friend who tries to get you to do stuff you don’t want to do, like party, skip class, or try improvisational comedy. Maybe you have a friend who trauma-dumps on you all the time when you need to study. It’s OK to step back a bit from friendships that aren’t working, and real friends will understand if your priorities don’t always align. You don’t have to do everything with friends 24/7. Some of the best friendships involve people with just one or two shared interests.
Setting boundaries with the people you can’t get out of your life
Or maybe you have relationships back home that are pulling you in. Maybe your little sister won’t stop calling you to complain about the drama of high school students or her issues with your parents. You obviously can’t cut your sister out of your life completely, but you can, and must, set boundaries. Tell her to send you an email, or that you can only talk for a few minutes on a certain day – and give her 100% of your attention during that time.
Practical boundaries for crisis and toxicity
Turn off the read receipts and typing notifications on your phone, and wait to respond to messages. If you have a tough time telling people no, set up some stock responses and copy them into your texts when you have to say no, sit something out, or tell someone you’re not interested.
Also, very important: If someone you know truly seems like they are in a crisis, or even if you just think they might be in a crisis, the kindest, most ethical thing you can do is refer them to the appropriate resources. Crises are not the same as toxicity, of course, but know your limitations and don’t set yourself up for a lifetime of regret. Toxic people deserve help, too.
Romance and boundaries
You’re away from home the first time, you’re largely allowed to do what you want, and you have almost no baggage or history with anyone else. So it’s no wonder that so many people launch relationships right when college begins. But ask yourself carefully if your burgeoning romance is impacting your time management, and what your priorities are.
A really awesome relationship involves people who will lift you up and understand if you need a couple of days to write an essay, or study, or get caught up. A relationship that’s not worth your time involves jealousy and suffocation. Consider keeping things casual, or non-existent, if they’re impacting your studies. Anyone who doesn’t understand that your priority is academic success is not contributing positively to your life.
Not all of the other students have to be your friends
Your main goal is to get the most out of school that you can. Sometimes that means hard choices. Remember that college is a time to make new friends and build meaningful relationships, but it’s also a time to be selective about who you allow into your life. Surround yourself with people who support and uplift you, and don’t be afraid to distance yourself from toxic individuals. Your college experience will be all the more rewarding for it.
Can you believe our guide on how to be successful in college is half over? Or, for you optimists out there, there’s still five parts to come?! Next time, we’ll dive even deeper into time management and how effective time management can help you avoid falling behind.