Staying positive in sometimes negative environments
At the end of every school year, I always like to take a minute to reflect on everything I’ve learned. Staying positive is probably the most important thing I learned to do this year.
Being a college student isn’t just hard because of class work. College is hard because you are forced to figure out how you want to live your life, both literally and emotionally.
A while back, someone told me she had made the decision not to seek higher education because she felt that she was too young to make big decisions about life early in her twenties. Looking back on our conversation, I can say that she was both right and wrong. Right, because no one ever really knows if any choice they make is the right one, and wrong, because again, no one really knows if any choice they make is the right one. But as I’ve realized this year, fear of being unsuccessful shouldn’t keep you out of the game.
At the beginning of this year, I made a lot of choices: I made the choice of finding a job, and I’m so grateful that I found one I absolutely love; I made the choice of working in a research lab, an experience I’m glad to have had so early in my research career. I also made the choice of going off-course a bit and taking classes outside my major, which was a hard decision because I love my major, but a good one, because I learned so much about those topics and about myself. Another great choice was helping to start an RSO, dedicated to both mental health and artistic causes, two things that I’m passionate about. The one choice that I regret making is expecting myself to achieve success right away- or actually, expecting myself to achieve perfection, because focusing so hard on doing well caused me to lose myself a little bit, too.
It wasn’t just any part of my I lost either, but some of the most important parts. I lost the confidence I’d worked so hard to achieve in my freshman year, because the more I saw myself fail and not reach my own expectations, the easier it was to expect myself to fail. I lost time, because the more anxious I got due to my lack of success, the easier it was to make excuses to bury myself behind books, readings and homework, in the library’s quiet section or in coffee shops and away from friends and family that I love. I rather quickly let the restless, anxiety-driven and easily agitated part of me I was afraid of take over the happy person, positive person that I’d known myself to be before.
This wasn’t an ordinary chicken-and-egg situation: my unhappiness wasn’t due to my lack of success, and my lack of success wasn’t due to my unhappiness. Rather, both were due to the underlying cause of defining happiness as success- setting up expectations for success without setting up expectations for mistakes and failure.
Making life choices isn’t – and shouldn’t be – binary. It isn’t about deciding if something is ‘for you’ or ‘not for you’. Being told to look at it in such a way is the biggest lie you will be told by any adviser. Making any decision is, and always should be, making a plan to work towards success, and part of that plan should be marking possible pit falls and planning to get around them.
Pit falls can be absolutely anything, but more broadly can be defined as a lack of support. Whether this means unsupportive people in your life, who might tell you that you are “too much” or “too little” of something, or a negative environment, or anything else for that matter. There is one thing that you can do to counter it all, and that is staying positive, or knowing that no matter what happens, you have what it takes in you to get what you want, and there is nothing and no one that can dig a hole large enough to keep you from crossing your finish line.
So in the end, my biggest success this year was learning how to plan for failure, and I can proudly say that because of that, I’m a better, stronger person than I was when 10 month ago, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.