Disclaimer: In this blog post, I outline my own thoughts and opinions in stream-of-consciousness, journal-style writing, which might not apply to everyone. Emotions, stress and mental health impact one another but they are not the same thing. If you wish to learn more, please visit the UBC Wellness Centre.
To begin this blog post, I would like to share with you one of my favorite quotes of Barry Lopez: “There are simply no answers to many of the pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of a leaning into the light.”
We all go through emotional challenges. I have experienced a significant increase in stress at university compared to in high school, because university is an awesome place where we are given so many opportunities, yet you are taking on a great deal of responsibilities. Speaking from my own experiences, no matter how on top of things I might have always been, there are certainly times in which all the stuff piling up on my plate overwhelms me. Having trouble finding someone empathetic to talk to, feeling left out, being unable to match up to our own expectations… University can be a challenging environment especially when we have not totally grasped its rhythm. We only have the capacity to deal with a limited number of things, while uncertainty takes up a lot of our cognitive bandwidth. In this blog post, I will take you on an emotional journey and share with you my experience in coping with uncertainty throughout university life.
“It is okay to cry!”
To cope with challenges in life, I have found that I do not always have to act tough. It is completely healthy and normal to feel terrible and shed tears. The important thing is that we do not hold judgement towards ourselves and give ourselves a chance to express our emotions. I use crying as a way to relieve stress and it has been working well for me. Of course, crying may not directly help us overcome our challenges, but it leaves room for us to calm down and restore our body to a state of balance. We will have to wipe our tears and finish our tasks but having the process of expressing emotions can give us a chance to soothe our troubled minds.
A different perspective on thinking
It takes time and indomitable courage to address feelings of insecurity that arise from uncertainty. More importantly, it requires a different perspective of thinking! I went to boarding school starting when I was barely 10 and am currently studying abroad for my undergrad. In my years of working toward achieving mental independence and maturity, I have taught myself to be positive and accepting of all the struggles that have seemed insurmountable to me, by acknowledging that one day I will use them as stepping stones. I acknowledge that it is not uncommon to feel we are not given what we deserve despite the tremendous amount of effort we make to reach a goal. In the context of school, people might ask: “why don’t all my grades look great when I am already super keen?” The main thing to realize here is that being keen to learn does not guarantee one will ace an assignment or a test. Sometimes, one’s work might not please everyone. However, a more important question to ask ourselves could be: “am I defining my gain in a way that resonates best with my progress?”
Getting to know ourselves better through finding meaning in learning
Think about it this way: I believe that as long as we have put in all we can give into the accomplishment of a task, regardless of the outcome, we are entitled to feel proud of ourselves. Getting a perfect score on one exam feels good for sure, but that 100 does not speak for the amount of knowledge and skills you gained from a class [Check out blog post Grades VS Educational Knowledge]. Not getting an ideal grade does not mean I have not learned anything, but rather, it means there is room for improvement which I am delighted to identify. I often tell myself that learning is my personal and lifelong business, therefore I have got to have a healthy and open-minded attitude with which I evaluate what I have taken away from a learning opportunity.
Pursuing higher education can be tough, and sometimes, what we are doing does not necessarily make sense right away. How am I supposed to apply derivatives in my future career? What is the point of doing all these assigned readings? We have all likely asked ourselves such questions at some point. Sometimes, being faced with difficult schoolwork can lead me to a sense of doubt. My personal take is that, no matter what it is that we are pouring our time and energy into, no matter how irrelevant it might look in the moment for our future professions, we want to cherish every single moment that we are doubting our decision and feeling uncertain because those are meaningful interactions with ourselves. For there is no one else but us who know ourselves the best, we can set parameters that will help us assess difficult times like this: Am I holding onto something totally worthless? Or are there experiences and value to be gained? If so, what are those?
Self-reflection & critical questioning
It is true that many of the things we learned in high school, that we are learning in undergrad, and that we will learn in many later phases of our life will not be directly relevant to what we do for a living. However, I always believe that in addition to the industry-specific knowledge I am absorbing in class, most importantly, I am encouraging myself to push my limits. Moments when I am challenged in my learning help me form a resilient mind and figure out the learning methods that work for me the best, by engaging in reflection and asking critical questions of myself and of the learning material. By asking ourselves “How does this concept apply to my professional and personal life?”, we may seek personal relevance in course materials even when it does not seem apparent at first. Through countless moments of ups and downs, sweats and tears, days and nights, we continue to challenge ourselves by fearlessly rising up against academic challenges and obstacles life is throwing at us. Many years later, the knowledge we learned about this specific subject might fade away, but our matured mind and more comprehensive perception of the world will serve us for many years to come.
We are not in this alone: self-awareness & self-acceptance
In the endless pursuit of our unfinished dreams, things might not always go as expected. It is important to take time to care for yourself when things do not turn out as expected, whether that means letting your emotions out or channeling your feelings into another activity such as hitting the gym or listening to music. How we manage failure and remain resilient in the face of adversity, however, is what helps us to build persistence and resilience [Check out the concepts of ’Grit’ by Angela Duckworth and ‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck to find your own balanced blend of persistence and passion as you work toward fulfilling your potential].
In times when I am too daunted to make my next move, I learn to release myself from the personal troubles that are confining me and look further into the future. This is not saying that my current struggles do not matter. They matter a lot, and I know I have legitimate reasons to feel bad and be emotional whenever needed. However, I remind myself that what I am going through right now is only an extremely small snippet of my life. When we look back twenty years from now on events that impact us, such as receiving a poor grade or not getting a job offer we wanted, we likely will not remember how devastated we once felt. Rather, what we gained from such events and our approach to addressing those issues will forever benefit us even in the darkest nights. When we position ourselves outside of the situation we are dealing with at the moment, we will be able to think analytically from a strategic viewpoint and realize a higher purpose of life that is so much more than worrying about an exam or receiving a bad mark for a project.
Dreamers? Visionaries? You name it. The one thing all these people have in common is that they face their challenges with great emotion, energy, and an ingrained belief they will reach the peak of their mountain. Be fearless and accepting when facing difficulties, because the point is not to step out of our comfort zone, but to expand it. By revealing our imperfections, recognizing our fragileness, we are made human and complete.