It’s hard to believe that I haven’t written on here in over two months. With presentations, final exams, and graduation, things have been more hectic than I would like for them to be, which left little time for blogging. The good news is that next week, I will finally complete the fourth part of the Present Perfect Series (which will be followed by a series of posts on Thrive by Arianna Huffington)! My plan is to do one post per week each Saturday and I’m also going to try to incorporate more photography and finally do a few recipe posts now that it’s the summertime.
Today, however, I wanted to take a bit of time to write about the chapter that has just closed in my life: my undergraduate career. Writing has always been cathartic for me (I actually found some pretty hilarious journals from 5th grade onward the other day in my closet) so I thought, why not share what these past four years have taught me about life, and (more importantly) about myself. Before we delve into that, though, here is an obligatory jumping picture that my parents took of me the day of graduation (which was about a month ago).
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started. I know that I sound like a greeting card when I say this, but these past four years have shaped me unlike any other period in my life thus far. The education that I received was academic of course, but it was also an education on life and on myself. Unlike classes, there is no syllabi for life to tell you exactly what to do each week and when the deadlines for every major milestone should be. For somebody like me, this is both a blessing and a curse, which brings me to my first lesson learned (that I’m still relearning, and relearning, and relearning…)
1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
I love to plan, I love checklists, and I love meeting deadlines and trying to control everything. (This should be my About Me on a dating website, right!?) It would only be natural, then, that trying to create a syllabus for life would be the next logical move – a plan where every event has a deadline and where evolvement is mapped out to the tenth degree. The deadlines, of course, would be taken from cultural norms and the opinions of others – a dangerous move. What I’ve found, however, is that in the moments where I revel in my accomplishments and growth without comparing them with a measuring stick against others is when I feel most empowered in my own existence. What I’ve also discovered is that I most often grow and evolve from experiences that are unexpected and that make me feel a bit uncomfortable – in other words, moments of challenge that are often unplanned.
Let me be clear that I struggle with this lesson daily, but I truly feel that college enabled me to observe it in a completely different way than in high school. Part of this is due to the fact that I went to such a large university, where there was no one standard “ideal” of living (very different from my hometown). It is so easy to look around – whether its in person or on social media or just culturally – and make comparisons to where you “should be.” The problem with this way of thinking is that it leaves no room for appreciating your own journey. This quote by Rick Warren comes to mind: “Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go.” The act of appreciating our own timeframe of evolution is robbed of its beauty when we start taking cultural or social norms as gospel.
2. Be True to Yourself
This kind of goes hand in hand with what I just spoke about above, but I felt that it needed its own section. Especially during my freshman year, I had a lot of difficulty accepting things about myself that differed from the general population. I’m not one for drinking or for late nights out and I’m not the most extroverted person, and when this is the dominant ideal of your surroundings, it can be hard to not feel less-than. But as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When I finally began embracing this mindset and honoring my inner voice instead of swallowing it in the name of fitting in, my self esteem grew much more than it would have had I blindly followed the crowd at the expense of myself. Once again, going to a large school in a city setting made this process all the more easy because, for the most part, everyone did their own thing. I think that this mentality is important for all areas of life, not just educationally or socially. It’s about honoring that inner voice and learning to follow your intuition, a lesson that is valuable for everyone, no matter how different they are.
3. Friendships Change
They always say that the friends you have freshman year are seldom the friends you have by senior year and I have found this to be both true and false. Sometimes, you click with someone almost immediately and you foster a friendship that goes the distance. Other times, those whom you felt most connected to become strangers after just one year. Even more interestingly, sometimes, the friends that you don’t necessarily have that magnetic energy with right away will lead to friendships that grow stronger each year. I have also been extremely fortunate to have had my best friend since grade 5 at my side despite the fact that we went to different colleges.
I think the biggest lesson that I learned friendship-wise, other than the fact that “friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” is how important it is to be honest with your friends and not swallow your feelings. I tend to shy away from confrontation and let things bottle up which is not exactly the healthiest habit, but I’m working on it. The funny thing is that by not speaking up, the other person assumes nothing is wrong and continues to do whatever you find issue with because they are obviously not a mind reader. Being upfront in a kind and considerate way and talking things through is a must for all types of relationships.
Another huge lesson that I learned is that it is okay to cut people off who don’t positively impact your life enough to be considered a true friend. For me, this applied to both high school and college friendships that fizzled. We all know those people who can’t seem to talk enough about themselves, and who seldom ask (or seem to care) how we’re doing. It can be so easy to fall into this type of pattern in a friendship, and then feel drained and completely disempowered each time that you see them. I have a simple rule that people who intentionally (or unintentionally) make me feel bad about myself are not worthy of friendship, regardless of whether we have shared good times and memories. Insecurity is rampant in our culture, but I have no time for people who think that being hurtful is an acceptable outlet for these feelings. Being a person is hard enough as it is, and friendships exist so that we can build each other up, not tear each other down. Quality over quantity, every time.
4. Do the Things that Scare You
Period. This is so incredibly hard to in the moment, but I can honestly say that every single time I have pushed myself to do something that I would much rather avoid, I am always grateful for having shown up. These are the moments where my confidence grows and where my fears dissipate and after they’re over, I always feel incredibly empowered in saying, “now I can take the next thing coming.” Even if the thing that you’re fearful of is completely irrational (which it often is for me), journaling out what exactly you’re afraid of (and its improbability of actually happening) is very helpful. Being mindful is also a tool that I picked up in college (mainly during the last two years) that enabled me to more fully embody this truth. If I take things one moment at a time and one breath at a time, I am always okay. That lesson is something that I will take with me wherever I go and continue to relearn on a daily basis. This quote by Joy Williams from a recent interview is my new mantra: “I know that when something scares me, it generally means it’s exactly what I should do.” If you need more help in this department, check out my post about Grace Bonney’s speech on facing fears (which I revisit on my own time pretty regularly). I also wrote about what mindfulness means and how to get your daily dose here.
Thanks for reading if you made it all the way down here. I know this was filled with a lot of cliché’s, but there’s a reason that they exist: because they’re true! Writing all of these lessons out was such a lovely way to conclude this chapter in my life, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn them, as I know that I will take them with me wherever I go in life.