My Diploma Isn’t About My Education, It’s About My Self-Awareness

Jenny Heyside

This up-coming weekend is my 5-year high school reunion, a commemoration that feels as though it has been accidentally scheduled three years early. Unfortunately, I won’t be in attendance, instead I will be in California attempting to come to terms with the fact that 2 days ago I graduated from a university.

These back-to-back celebratory weekends of my various academic achievements are on the one hand laudatory, and on the other hand highly introspective. For it isn’t enough to just acknowledge the ending of these chapters, I have an obligation to myself to spend some time reflecting on the days, months, and years that form the link between the two graduation dates.

For without reflection, anything you or I do is edging very close to ‘was done in vain’ territory.

Between high school and attending a university, I took a gap year and traveled. I spent months backpacking around Europe, worked a corporate job for a consulting company in Manhattan, and then took those pay-checks with me to teach English to Buddhist monks in Nepal and travel more extensively around India.

While the year may sound like an over-indulgence in play, the most important aspect of my gap year was the fact that for the first time in my life I had an extended amount of time to really get to know myself.

So much time was spent in silence thinking, reading, imagining, wondering. Exploring what it was that made my heart skip a few too many beats, envisioning the kind of person I wanted to be, and making peace with the person that I was.

It just made it slightly better that those hours happened to take place in some of the most beautiful places around the world.

When I think about that year, that is what I deem to be the most important take-away. The fact that I arrived on my first day of university with too many shoes and a whole trunk full of self-awareness. Not that that was it, nor is it now it 4 years later. We aren’t done.

Self-awareness is (and should be) a life-long passion.

But it was a major step, and something that over the next four years became more and more obvious as many of my peers struggled to find their way.

Intellectually I know that I can whip out research papers in a couple of days, yet need a couple of weeks to prepare for any type of quantitative exam. I know that I learn better through discussion, and that I will surprisingly actually do 95% of the reading that Professors assign to me. That being said, over the past four years I have become better at noticing when I am slipping into procrastination habits and when I actually need to take a break and grant myself a nap.

I am not as interested in economics as I once thought I was (most likely because I was pretty sh*t at it); yet, on the other hand, some of my favourite classes have introduced me to new passions, most obviously those that showed me how to view food and popular culture in academic contexts.
I overloaded on classes every single semester, allowing me to double major even while studying abroad for a year and taking classes outside of my majors for “fun”. Almost all of them pushed and stretched and squeezed and confused my brain in some capacity — with a couple of them forcing me to wonder how certain “professors” were given that title.

I know now more than ever that I love school. That I love the process of learning. That I love walking into a class and coming out an hour later so much more knowledgeable than I was prior. I know now that for me, self-awareness and academic knowledge are intrinsically intertwined.

During my time in the university I wrote for the school newspaper, had my own music show on the radio station, and worked as the radio station’s News Director. I interned last summer and then got hired by the company (meaning I worked throughout my senior year), forcing me to put time-management at the top of my priorities.

I now know how much I can accomplish in my day with the right planning, calendar app, venti iced Americano, and encouragement from my boyfriend. I know how to switch my brain between Chinese class, work deadlines, and ideas for photo-shoots, and most importantly I have finally accepted that all these things are important to me and that I have to find ways to pursue them all — I just don’t have to pursue all of them everyday.

I learned that the people you surround yourself with have more to do with your daily success than almost anything else. After removing those who no longer fit in my life, I found people whose outlooks aligned with mine, whose goals forced mine to expand a bit, and whose belief and support in me and my dreams kept me strong when my own conviction faltered. They are the same ones who would remind me to relax, to look after myself, to every now and again go a little easier on myself, to not expect that I have to do everything everyday.

Some of these people were close, the majority of them are scattered around the world. I’ve learned that those who are supposed to be in your life will come in and take a seat, that friendships may fade for a little and then re-emerge stronger than ever before, that family is family no matter how many time zones exist between them and you, and that it really is possible to often feel like you have it all when you get to share your highs and lows in a healthy, fulfilling relationship.

As my Mama has always (wisely) said, “Friends are for a season, a reason, or for life”.

It hasn’t all been easy — it would be wrong for me to give you that impression. This isn’t just a list of all the things I’ve done—it is about self-awareness.

Because while I have made mistakes, I have no regrets.

When you are living from a place centered on self-awareness it is easy to have no regrets. Sure, there are memories from freshman year that I no longer would do or say or enjoy, but part of being self-aware is also recognizing that you are not a stagnant being. As long as you are being true to the person you are in this specific instant, then you are living self-aware.

I am lucky to be graduating with a very clear idea of who I am and who I want to be. I know what I need from my work, my hobbies, my relationship, my work-outs, my friendships, my travels, my free-time, in order to be the happiest and healthiest and most vibrant me.

I got to this place of ***almost*** total love and acceptance of myself, not because I am cocky and self-obsessed, but because I am self-aware.

Because I took the time to get to know myself. Because I tried out every avenue that spoke to me, and refocused when they weren’t what I needed. Because I have intentionally sought out experiences that were so not me. Because despite everyone telling me that I was being silly studying abroad for the whole of my sophomore year, I knew that that was what was best for me. Because I listened to me. Because I try to constantly engage with new experiences, ideas, perspectives.

Why would I do this? Why am I even telling you this? Because one morning I woke up and suddenly realized so clearly that there is no-one else on the planet who has to live with the day-by-day decisions I make, other than me. Because no matter how much another person loves me, no-one can make me happier than I can. As soon as I realized this, that became my biggest job.

To the outside world my diploma symbolizes my academic achievements over the past four years, but to me it represents a diploma in self-awareness.
Here’s to the next 5 years! TC mark

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