One of my former professors was offering advice to a student reporter when she finally told her, “Be like Bryan, but don’t be like Bryan.”

No truer words have ever been said. 

The teacher was referring to my professional track record and my personal shortcomings. I didn’t take good care of myself, and I didn’t experience many of the social aspects of college.

As I am graduating early and wrapping up classes in the coming month or so, I have forced myself to reflect on my college experience. I haven’t liked what I’ve found. 

If I could convey one message to students, it would be to follow the latter half of my professor’s advice: “Don’t be like Bryan.” 

More specifically, don’t put work above health. Don’t sacrifice all your time with friends and family for work. Don’t skip meals. Don’t restrict yourself to only a few hours of sleep each night.

Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of what I’ve achieved during my time here at Elon University. I’ve written three scholarly research papers, performed well in all of my classes, secured spectacular internships and even landed a one-on-one interview with then-candidate Donald Trump. 

I do not regret the path I chose during my time at Elon, and I cannot think of a single thing I’ve said or done that I would take back. 

Even so, I wish I had more opportunities to connect with others. I do not drink, smoke, do drugs or engage in any risky behaviors, making me feel like an outsider on a campus that booms with such activities on a nightly basis. I have found it virtually impossible to meet people of similar minds. Whether I’m an endangered species at Elon or one that is soon-to-be extinct remains to be seen. 

Here is where I failed, and why I don’t want others to follow in my footsteps: I stopped trying.

I quickly grew disheartened upon my arrival to campus almost four years ago and felt there was very little for me to do outside of schoolwork and reporting. I amped up my workload, leaving my mind as little time as possible to think about the personal struggles I was going through. 

Time has a way of catching up to you, and I’m grateful it only took me three and a half years to see a potentially dangerous road that lay ahead.

In many ways, journalism has served as a form of escapism for me. More importantly, it has allowed me to give a voice to others, share their stories and occasionally, create a positive change. I know reporting is all I want to do for the rest of my life and will remain my biggest priority. 

But I also know it should not be the only thing I have going in my life.

If you distinguish yourself from others in your field of study, achieve your professional goals and make a positive difference in others’ lives, it is still possible to fall short of where you’d like to be. 

Don’t be me. Be better.