Dear first-year me,
My growing excitement to write this post quickly diminished when I realized my days as a university student was drawing to a close. How do I even begin to pen my experience?
To be frank, I marched into student life with a plan to reinvent myself into this well-rounded, intelligent, compassionate, and self-sufficient young woman who by the time her status as a student expires, would be at the peak of her “togetherness.” But, due to my life-long battle with perfectionism that slightly borders neuroticism (only sometimes), I can say with a heavy-heart that the journey ahead of me is going to be a long and tiresome one.
Are there things I would do differently if I could do it all over again? Yes – and no, for reasons I will disclose later on. But first, here are some things I would do differently if I had the chance for a do-over.
Focus on learning and cherish experiences
As students, we measure ourselves using a metric system that praises those on the higher end. But, we often forget that just like clothes no one is a one-size-fits-all, and so it doesn’t seem fitting that we buy into such a system. Right? But when your career, graduate school, self-esteem, parental pressure, and social belonging (and the list goes on) are all, in one way or another determined by this continuum, it’s not easy to just ignore it. If you let the numbers and scores be the byproduct of your learning experience and not the other way around, you’ll be amazed by where you’ll naturally fall on the scale. But even so, by focusing your intentions on the knowledge you’ll take away with you, it’ll make the hardest or most unexciting classes a little more enjoyable. Long story short, it’s all about attitude.
Stop dwelling on the future or the past, and focus on the present
From a young age we were taught the importance of planning ahead; by 17, our brains are wired to think in future tense. But the more time spent visualizing; playing and re-playing all the scenarios that could potentially (emphasis on potentially) come your way, the more you tend to miss out on what’s going on right in front of you. I’m definitely no expert, but an amazing way to achieve this is by doing one thing every single day that helps you take your mind off of the “what ifs.” For me, that’s been exercising or just finding a way to move my body first thing in the morning; It helps set the tone for how the rest of my day will go. So whether that is reading a book or going for a run, find one thing that will keep your mental health in check. There’s a saying: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present!” So make sure you take time and cherish all the gifts you are given throughout the day.
Mentors mentors mentors
Oprah Winfrey once said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” The best way to learn is from those who have lived through experiences that are quickly approaching you. A good way to do this is to utilize the office hours that your professors offer. Instead of seeing your classes or professors as just another checkbox you need to tick off from your list of things to do, try and foster a genuine connection with them. Do this by asking them questions you have in regards to their class; once you feel comfortable, you can open up the discussion to more personal matters like career planning. Keep in mind that mentorship is suitable for any area of your life; not just in academics, so start creating your circle of mentors!
Gratitude is the best medicine for stress
Gratitude is only something most of us hear when the holiday season rolls around. But practicing gratitude as part of your daily routine has been scientifically proven to have overwhelming benefits in all areas of life. Gratitude accompanies a wealth of positive emotions; happiness, humility, compassion, and the list goes on. Acknowledging simple pleasures in life will unshackle you from the negativity that is weighing you down. A way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal, or better yet, express it verbally to anything or anyone you are grateful to. The key to this is to sit with that feeling once you’ve accessed it. Everyone has different ways of practicing gratitude, so find your unique way of tapping into that mindfulness center of your brain.
Embrace your journey; don’t change a thing.
Remember when I said there are reasons I would not change my university experience? Well here it is. This is probably the most rewarding and freeing advice you can ever adopt. But as a perfectionist, it was definitely the hardest one to swallow. Imperfections, failures, losses, and setbacks lie in every corner of life; it took me multiple self pity-parties to realize that. Although there are many moments throughout my university experience I wish I could hit the rewind button on, I wouldn’t have learned anything new if it weren’t for the one-too-many mistakes I made during my experience. So be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and fail hard, fail forward, fail successfully.