25 Things This Year Has Taught Me

I am writing this from the second floor of the library. I am comfortably settled in a chair by the window so that I may watch the grey day outside. I can hear the voices of students below me, but I am not bothered. Today is a quiet day, a reflective day. The drizzling skies have no gloom or melancholy. For unknown reasons, an anticipatory energy lingers in the air. Perhaps it’s the coming rainfall or dreams of summer. To me, it feels like something far beyond that. Today is a day that invites artists, thinkers, and lovers to find a quiet spot to meditate and create. Perhaps that is why this eleventh day of May has drawn me to this window spot, calling me to write.

Only a few days remain of my first year of college. With this transitory period between classes ending and finals beginning, my mind has had a significant amount of time to breath. Recently, I’ve really been reliving the memories of this year, reflecting on the various life lessons I have learned. This year has been a time of tremendous growth and discovery for me, and I am truly grateful for that. I have found a lot of happiness, peace, and wisdom in the things I have learned, and today, I would like to share some of the things that this year has taught me.

1. Try New Things. Trying new things has always been a challenge of mine. Before coming to college, consistency was my security. I’d find something I liked and rarely deviate from it. This year, I intentionally immersed myself in new settings, social groups, and activities. The growth that followed was tremendous.

2. Love and embrace Change. Similar to the first point, change has always been somewhat terrifying for me. I’ve really learned, however, that change is exciting. Change is healthy. Allowing change into my life has given me opportunities I could have never imagined for myself. 

3. Don’t Be Anxious. Anxiety is difficult. It enters your life, messes everything up, and never seems to leave. Anxiety causes our lives to feel out of control and the only thing we feel we can do is surrender. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve learned that these are all lies. Anxiety doesn’t control me. Rather, I control anxiety. My phobias arose from a lack of trust in myself and the world around me. If my mind created anxiety in my life, it could eliminate it. Once I realized this, I worked endlessly to combat these thoughts. A life previously gripped with anxiety attacks and silly fears is now filled with freedom and confidence. Some say that anxiety never really leaves, but I honestly believe it can be eliminated through reconstructing your life.

4. Love Every Human. College has cultivated open-mindedness in my life. Diversity is a beautiful thing, and we all have our own stories. Every person is worthy of love and respect, and I have no right to look on others in a harsh, judgmental way. Throughout this school year, I have learned to recognize strengths and positive characteristics within the people around me. I celebrate differences. If my thoughts aren’t so loving, I work to combat them.

5. Love Intensely. This one goes along with the previous lesson. With capacity to love and be loved as a top strength of mine, I value close relationships. I love, and I love hard. Sometimes that is scary for people, and they don’t understand me. When I feel like love can’t be reciprocated by the other person, I feel hurt and insecure. I try to scale it back a bit and love “normally.” But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with loving. It’s unfair of me not to love with everything I have if that’s how I function. I’d rather be hurt by loving too much than by not loving at all. This is something I am accepting more and more every day.

6. You create your own happiness. I’ve known this for years now, but these past two semester have comprehensively exercised this. We as humans cannot look towards other people and situations to bring us happiness in life. I see so many sad and insecure people who desperately want a partner to come into their lives and magically make it all okay. Yes, this is a beautiful idea, but that’s not how life works, and I wish I could somehow let them know that. It’s unfair of you to believe that anyone/anything other than yourself is your source of happiness. Focus on enhancing positive emotions in your life. Be patient and loving towards yourself. Create your own happiness, and that will attract other happy things into your life.

7. Follow what your passionate about. This year, I’ve discovered many passions that I never knew existed. In particular, I found a burning love for positive psychology. I’d finish a presentation or a service project centered around positive psychology, and I’d be glowing with excitement for days. I am completely on fire for this area of psychology. Something that feels so right must belong in my life. I must chase it. I hope that you too can find something you’re passionate about and follow that in your life.

8. Use your strengths. While we’re talking about positive psychology, here’s something that I learned within my positive psychology class. We all have signature strengths (if you’d like to know your strengths, click here.) By continuously exercising our strengths, we put ourselves in a state of flow or engagement. This stimulating, rewarding feeling is one of the main routes to a happy life. Before taking this class, I never really paid much attention to my strengths. I was unaware of what my strengths were and how I could use them to enhance my life, but now after being enlightened, my life has never been happier.

9. Public speaking is exciting. Mara, are you crazy?! No, but it’s true. Over the course of the school year, I’ve really grown to love public speaking. I like organizing speeches and presentations to share with a large group of classmates. Sure I may be quiet. Sure I may not be that confident of a speaker, but it’s still an exhilarating experience. I see each speech as a new learning opportunity. I’m enhancing my communication skills and building my confidence. You can’t go wrong there!

10. Distance doesn’t ruin a relationship. Long-distance relationships aren’t a problem until people allow it to be. Because long-distance relationships are so different, people are often not equipped with the patience, commitment, and communication skills needed to maintain the relationship. This is when things fall apart. And I’m not just talking about romantic relationships here. I am thankful that I have maintained connections with all of my close friends throughout this year of college. In fact, my closest friend McKaslin goes to school two hours away from me, and our hometowns are four hours apart. We talk consistently and openly, and it’s honestly one of the richest friendships I’ve ever had. Sure, it can be difficult not seeing her very often, but distance has no effect on our friendship.

11. Be authentic. I spent so much of my life hiding bits and pieces of who I was. My main concern was blending in and receiving acceptance from my peers. It wasn’t until college when I began to fully express who I was and embrace every part of me. The real me seemed so different, so exotic at first, but I truly love her. I feel a lot of freedom and happiness in being a raw and genuine soul.

12. Planning is everything. If you could see my list of planners, calendars, and to-do lists, you would understand what I mean. Planning is essential in college. You have events, classes, and homework hitting you from every angle. The only way to maintain motivation and sanity is to create a plan of action.

13. Be Humble. I’ll be honest, humility is one of my biggest struggles (out of the list of 24 strengths, humility is #24.) My quiet nature may give the illusion that I am humble, but behind that mask, I am an attention addict. I try too hard to be the best in the things I do, and as a result, I can be condescending towards others. My pride is extremely toxic and unhealthy. This school year has provided me with a humbling environment and supportive people, making it much easier to eliminate the pride in my life. I am now more able to selflessly appreciate those around me.

14. Community is essential to growth. This year, I became involved with a Christian ministry called Cru. Cru has given me a supportive, welcoming community of people on fire for their faith. It is so encouraging to have people who want to grow with me and who support me on my journey. This year has been one of tremendous growth for me, and I can definitely attribute a large part of that to my community.

15. Being quiet isn’t a bad thing. If I heard the words “You’re so quiet. You should talk more,” I could pay off my student debt and go to school for the rest of my life. These words have always been my greatest pet peeve. People think of quietness as a bad thing, and I don’t understand why. I used to be insecure about my quietness. I felt excluded from the world. I now understand that this introverted quality of mine should be embraced and loved. It’s not that I have a lack of words; rather, I have an abundance of thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts are so complex, I feel there is no one to understand them or listen to them. It’s not that I hate talking (I actually genuinely love conversations), but I prefer listening. I have a quiet, insightful soul, and the world needs to appreciate that more.

16. You don’t need a partner to be happy. My soul is a relatively independent one. I’m content in my singleness, and I typically don’t actively pursue guys. For me, happiness exists no matter who is in my life. I don’t intend to use my energy to pursue others. If a relationship is meant to be a part of my life, it’ll work itself out. Love will find its way into my life, and I can pour that saved energy into something that will actually bloom.

17. You will heal. There will be times where things seem so overwhelmingly painful. You’ll find yourself at a low point, asking yourself how you will ever be able to pick yourself back up again. But from personal experience, I can confidently tell you that you will survive, and things will get better. Practice self-love and patience in the meantime. You will find happiness again.

18. Know your worth. Each and every one of us are valuable. We are unique. We are precious. We should not waste energy on people who see anything less of us. If someone does not recognize your worth or respect your values, leave immediately. Don’t allow anyone or anything to minimize you as a human being. This has always been hard for me to accept, considering I welcome anyone into my life who wants to be a part of it, and once they’re in, I don’t know how to separate myself from them. I am worthy though, and no one else can take that away from me.

19. Start each day with a smile. When I wake up, the first thing I do is greet the morning with a long, happy smile. I tell myself “Today will be a good day. Let’s do this.” Although this may seem cheesy, it is really effective. Psychology says that simply activating your “smile muscles” boosts your mood. Even if I’m anticipating a busy or stressful day, I remind myself to enter my day positively. Not only has my mood improved since I began this practice, but it has become a lot easier to leave my bed in the early morning.

20. Slip ups aren’t that bad. Being a perfectionist, mistakes have always been one of my biggest social anxieties. This year, I am being patient and accepting of my mistakes. Everyone slips up, and no one is here to watch me fail. If I can accept the fact that I make mistakes, there is no reason for me to fear them or hate them. I openly embrace my slip ups and just laugh it off.

21. Every person is a lesson. This has been one of the most important lessons for me this year. Everyone comes into our lives for a reason, whether it’s a brief interaction or a life-long relationship. Stranger. Best friend. Whoever. Everyone carries something with them for you to discover and learn from. This is really easy to see in our close friends and family. We gain wisdom and inspiration from the people we admire. There are other people, however, who have lessons that are more difficult to find. Search for them. Embrace your interactions with the world.

22. You’re okay. An ex of mine taught me this one. At the time we were dating, several changes were taking place in my life, and I was still cleaning up the remaining anxieties in my life. I would always come to him with any of my worries. Many times, I was placed in overwhelming social settings or other triggering environments while I was with him, and he would first-hand witness my emotional breakdowns and frustrations. He was very patient with me, and every time, whether it was text or in person, he would repeatedly tell me “you’re okay. you’re okay. you’re okay.” He would repeat these things until I calmed down, giving me as much time as I needed. These two words, although seemingly simple and meaningless, brought a lot of meaning and peace into my life. Even after we broke up and he was no longer around to tell me these words, I told myself these words. “You’re okay.” No situation will ruin you. Everything will work out. Simply breathe and carry on. These two words have become my mantra. They are so versatile that I can apply any meaning to them in any setting. They are an effective blanket for me, and I continue to let these words bring the same comfort to my life as they did in our relationship.

23. Be kind to yourself. This is also something that I’ve intentionally practiced for years now, but college gives you an entirely new environment use these things in. I am kind to myself through positive thoughts, self-love, and patience. I understand who I am and how I function through the highs and lows. I don’t dwell on the mistakes I make or what I could do better, and I celebrate my strengths. I give myself time and space when I need to heal, being patient every step of the way. There is no overnight recovery, and I need to remind myself that I am making progress in life. I also do not say degrading things about myself or my life. This has become so fundamental in my life that I feel bad if I talk or think about myself negatively. I don’t mean this in a conceded way, but if I say something like “my life sucks” or “I’m inadequate”, I immediately have a “talk” with myself and get back on track. I take time to practice self-care and enhance all of these things in my life.

24. Listen to your heart over your brain. As mentioned in my last post, our intuition knows so much more than we do. Sometimes we feel we cannot validate our actions simply with “a gut feeling,” but in all honesty, that’s exactly what we need. This year has taught me to take the time to listen to my heart, rather than my brain. These two entities tend to argue… a lot. Over the past few years, I’ve ignored my heart, consequently making foolish mistakes and getting terribly hurt. I’m learning that my heart a trustworthy compass, and I need to follow it at times. She knows what she’s doing more than I do. Through this, I have learned the value of the things and the people in my life. I have also made surprising leaps of faith, such as transferring here to UW-Stevens Point.

25. God is so good. I grew up in a Christian home. I attended mass every Sunday and went to a Catholic school up until high school. From a very early age, I had a strong appreciation for my faith. People would always tag me as “The Churchgoer” or the “Bible Nerd” on Facebook. Although I always learned about how to develop a relationship with Christ, I never worked to intentionally build on that. As I entered college, my faith became my faith. I really had to take the initiative to grow in what I believed. I became involved with Cru, Bible Study, and the church on campus. I felt so alive and on fire for my faith. For the first time in my life, I was completely surrendering to God, entering into spiritual conversations, and witnessing the power of God like never before. I saved this point for the last because I really believe that this is the thing that allowed me to learn all of the previous lessons. My heart has been opened up to healing, happiness, and joy as a result of my relationship with God. I hope that you as readers can also experience something powerful like this, no matter what your beliefs are. Really grow in your beliefs. Find people to support your growth. Witness the fruits of all of this.

As this sentence brings us to 3,000 words, you are probably anticipating the end of this post. I hope you too have learned some life lessons these past two semesters. I would love to hear about them in the comments section. I hope love, happiness, and growth follow you in the summer to come.

Cheers on this cloudy day,

-Mara

[ photo credits, as always: Young Blossom Photography ]

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