I am in a one year master’s program and my time here has been a whirlwind, to say the least. Between all of the assignments, the new friends, and the activities going on at the university, I have hardly had time to pause and process the whole experience. However, whenever a life chapter starts to come to a close, I find myself reflecting upon how my personal ties with other people will be left and how I have grown and changed. Of course, the priority of graduate school is, first and foremost, the coursework. However, being in an intense, new environment with new people can be used as a point of illustration for reflection and lessons learned outside of the academics. As I prepare to say goodbye to this place and to the people here, I wanted to share my own musings on the year and reflections about what I have learned:
1. You are never too busy for the people you care about.
It is easy for us to get into the mode of “life is so stressful!” “I need to lock myself in the library and not come out for five days!” or “so sorry I’ve forgotten to respond to your texts, I’ve been so swamped.” I’ve found that it has become somewhat of a weird pride in shared misery, with everyone talking about how stressed they are, how much work they have, and how little time they have to get it done. When I ask someone to get together, they pull out a color-coated g-cal and say things like “yes, let’s see. I can see you two weeks from tomorrow for coffee from 3-3:30. Does that work for you?” It doesn’t feel great to be made into a little yellow block on a cyber calendar and I think the biggest thing we forget sometimes is that we are ALL busy. We all have commitments and assignments and it is easy to get wrapped up in our own world. When we look back on our time here, hours spent in the library will be a blur and the things that will stand out are the friendships we made and the random memories spent staying up to watch the sun rise or going to a Scottish ceilidh dance (I see you, Abigail). Personally, I don’t have the attention span to sit in the library with no human contact for days on end, and I know I will end up being more efficient with my school work in the long run if I make time to see people for study breaks (I mean, we all have to eat sometime, right?) and do things that remind me the world spins outside of my little academic bubble.
2. If you want it, come and get it.
The company you keep is your choice. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a people-pleaser and I have a hard time letting go of people even if I don’t like how I feel when I am around them. For some twisted reason, when someone is indifferent toward me, it makes me feel like I have to prove myself to them. This mentality however, only made me resentful of the one-sided relationships in my life. So, I stopped making plans with laissez-faire friends and let those ties go. I offer up my plans like a buffet, people take it or leave it, and I carry on doing thing that I love, un-knocked from my center-point of happiness regardless. I am content with how I am spending my time and I am surrounding myself in good energy and company so there is little room for people whose presence I don’t feel good around. Of course, the door swings both ways and I sometimes have to check myself and make sure my energy is one that people would like to be around… which brings me to point number
3. Choose your adventures.
Walk into a place and decide before you enter “I am going to make tonight interesting. I am going to talk to someone new and learn a little piece of their story.” Being interesting doesn’t just mean going out and being social. Some of my best nights have those with my guitar – under the stars, writing music (#hopelessromantic) or doing pitch-black yoga in my room to trance music (ok, these are kind of random activities, but you get the idea…). Rather than waiting for someone else to step it up and make plans, or rather than going to a party hoping that it will provide you with a fun night, go out (or stay in) and create that night yourself. Others will start to pick up on your vibes and start wondering what you are up to, because you bring the entertainment with you.
4. Here in now.
I am notorious (for better and for worse) for having lots of ideas and plans that I love to share with friends. While it is, of course, a great thing to plan ahead and to include others in those plans, I sometimes miss how amazing the present moment is because I am already thinking of the next thing I could be doing. In Buddhism, the act of practicing “non-attachment” is fundamental and is basically the idea that everything bad will pass- but so will everything good- so just focus on being true to yourself and enjoy or learn from the present moment. One of my favorite quotes, from the Gabrielle Aplin song Please Don’t Say You Love Me, reads “under pressure, precious things can break.” I remind myself of this from time to time. When a moment is really special, just bask in it, instead of squeezing it dry or putting expectations on other people. I find that when I stop thinking about where the moment will go next, it actually ends up lasting longer.
5. Pull yourself out of the scene and see the bigger picture.
One of the biggest paradoxes of living in the present is that you must take a step back to realize/appreciate how good your life is overall. The assignment you are stressed about turning in later this week, or a text you never got back from the person you are bantering with (as I like to say when in England) is miniscule in the grand scheme of things. One assignment, one text, one foot-in-the-mouth moment, one tense meeting with your academic advisor…these are not things to waste hours analyzing or fretting about. On a large scale, the things that really matter (to me) are the interactions and relationships I have with people. When I feel like I have been, on a whole, in a good routine in terms of doing things that make me feel fulfilled and refreshed (even the simple things like getting 8 hours of sleep or calling good friends from back home), little blunders never frazzle me (too much). The times I pause and make changes are the times when I realize blunders (like being perpetually late to meetings or scrambling to turn in work at the last minute, for example) are becoming habits. They were becoming habits because I wasn’t making time to nourish (as cheesy as it sounds) my soul so I could be the best and most productive version of myself in my day-to-day interactions.
6. Be a good listener. Soak in the experiences of others.
In a pressure-cooker place, it is easy to fall into the habit of talking about one’s own academic research, plans for the future, relationship problems, eating habits, etc… Obviously, it is important to share these types of things with friends, as that is how you connect and how relationships grow, but it is also really refreshing when you come across a truly great listener, also known as a unicorn. These unicorns ask you questions, and as you are answering, they are not formulating their own response about how this reminds them of that time when they were also in Tanzania…but instead they are genuinely interested, and ask you follow-up question after follow-up question to understand and appreciate the story you are telling. Most of us like to talk about ourselves. But, being a good listener creates a richer life experience and understanding that everyone has a story worth telling and a story to learn from.
7. You’ll regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did do.
My work ends up getting done in the end somehow, by the grace of some coffee god that enters my mouth and spills out of my fingertips onto my laptop in the form of somewhat intelligible words. For this reason, the thought “geez, I wish I had stayed in the library that day instead of having a picnic with friends” has not once crossed my mind. The things I regret this year are the opportunities that I was given but didn’t take. I spent too long weighing the pros and cons and logistics and I ended up missing some incredible opportunities. The worst part is, the days of those opportunities, I was hardly productive at all, and the time I thought I ‘saved’ to do work was actually for naught. I will always remember that feeling I had after missing out on something I was passionate about, and I have since vowed to just ‘take the leap’ next time something amazing comes my way.
Speaking of, I was on a run this morning and the idea came to me to pen the musings about what I have learned this year. “No,” I initially thought. “I need to finish these 6,000 words to hand in to my advisor by tomorrow.” Then I thought, “Wait! I don’t want this moment of clarity to disappear.” So, instead of revising my dissertation literature review, I spent the morning writing this article. (And now, I can only hope this improved clarity will give me the productive energy to get my actual work done).