Since attending university, I’ve come across several counsellors, academic mentors, and clinical psychologists. Whether it be advice for life, handling emotions, or an outside perspective of me, this is some of the advice they have given me that I have personally kept in mind.
1. “Being a student is like being a boxer. You are expected to struggle!”
An academic mentor and subject leader for one of my modules shared this with us at the start of our course.
Being a boxer not only takes a lot of dedication towards maintaining one’s physique, but it also requires a copious amount of perseverance. When a boxer gets punched in the gut or slammed against the side ring, they don’t just admit defeat. They get right back up, ready to fight once more.
I kept this advice displayed on my desktop as a reminder that it is okay to struggle. It is understandable, and I am not lesser than others if I don’t understand something right away. We may struggle, but it’s what we choose to do about it that matters.
2. “When we start to steadily achieve success, the perfectionist side of us arises. Be mindful of the standards you set for yourself.”
That’s the daunting thing about success or being known for an achievement. You get on this “high,” as though you’re on top of the world and everything is going swimmingly well. You never want to get back down, and that’s where the problem arises. When something that was not part of our plan happens, that’s when we fall the hardest.
As much as we hate to admit it, most of us try to live up to an ideal image of ourselves. Whether it’s being the person who always has it all together, the good leader, the role model, the cheerful sunshine, the intimidating not-to-be-messed-with badass. When we fall short of the expectations of others, it can be embarrassing. But when we fall short of our own expectations, it hurts much more.
I realized the need to be mindful about the things I can control and the things I cannot control. We also tend to hold ourselves up to harsher standards in comparison to the standards we set to others. Even when you’re at the top of the world or rock bottom, please remember that success does not determine your entire worth.
3. “Maybe we should examine the real root of all this: The power that you give away due to you reacting instead of responding.”
Reacting. Responding. Aren’t they both just similar words that describe one person replying to another?
There is a difference between reacting and responding to someone or something.
A reaction is more brash, more “in the moment,” the first unfiltered thought we have when something happens. Though a reaction is not always something we have control over, we can do something in the meantime that will calm us down instead of giving into a negative reaction.
A response is much different than a reaction. Responses are more thoughtful. You’ve given thought to the consequences of your reply. You’ve weighed the pros and cons and have figured out what would be the best way to move forward from the situation at hand.
4. “You keep chasing after something as though you are trying to compensate for the way you view yourself.”
A counsellor brought up this theory when we were discussing why I felt so fearful to let go of my responsibilities and pass them on to my successors. To my knowledge at the time, I was grateful and delighted to complete a successful year of leading with an amazing committee. Leaving this meant I was no longer that person. I sought so much validation from my position that I was worried about it being taken away from me. I was also worried if we chose the right successors — wouldn’t I be blamed if anything goes wrong? My thoughts were racing; I was anywhere but present.
The feeling of inadequacy is not a stranger to a lot of us. A lyric in RM’s “uhgood” describes this feeling to a T when he sings, “At times I am disappointed with myself. Honestly, I trample on myself. Do you only amount to this? You need to do so much better.” I kept chasing, I kept thinking it wasn’t enough, that I hadn’t done enough. I didn’t know when I was supposed to stop. Why do we talk so kindly about others, but we are unable to show that same kindness to ourselves?
5. “Stop thinking about whether you are able to justify the other person’s actions. You are allowed to speak on what hurts you.”
We’ve been often taught to take the high road, be the bigger person, and be patient. But there is a limit to this.
You should not be suppressing everything that you feel just because you are able to empathize with the other person. For example, we can say that we can empathize that an older person may be crankier than most because they may be struggling with their health, everything aches, and some of them may not have a specific cause or activity that fulfils them. But their predicament does not mean they have an all-access card to manipulate you, downgrade others, or order you around like their personal maid.
You are allowed to speak out if something hurts you. You are allowed to express yourself. We’re human; we can’t always take the high road as much as we try to. We can learn to cope, speaking out when it is needed but not aggravating the situation further.
I hope these pieces of advice help to assure you like they continue to assure me.