As the New Year sets in and the campus reawakens from its winter hibernations, the classrooms quickly fill with an assortment of students. The clock on my phone reads 7:55 AM and almost immediately I question why I assumed this would be good idea. With each second, regret and annoyance flood my mind. As the heaviness of my eyes sets in with each blink, thoughts of a warm bed that I had so rudely abandoned flood into my imagination, and I begin to feel a slight sense of panic.
While this was initially due to a sudden realization that I didn’t have my school supplies, it was the afterthought that actually sent a chill through my bones. Here I was, yet again, sitting in a class unprepared with no motivation to learn. Now, if your last semester went anything like mine, I’m sure you’d understand my worry. In fact, last semester I even refused to look at my final grades until it was absolutely necessary. When I finally found the courage, I was riddled with gut-wrenching anxiety over whether to be pessimistic or optimistic about my grades, as if either would minimize the blow of the inevitable outcome. So why was it that regardless of last semester and all the regrets and mistakes that I fixated on for days afterward, did it seem like there was no opportunity to change? For one reason or another, my mind interpreted any minor human error as a sign or prediction that this semester was doomed to be just like my last. This thought lingered in my mind all day, and sent me into a rapid panic and minor depression. By the end of the day, a feeling of uncertainty and disappointment made a home in the pit of my stomach, bellowing for attention or assurance, both of which I had none to give.
However, it wasn’t until I remembered the age-old saying, “learn from your mistakes,” that I was able to find a way to quiet my crippling anxiety. I remembered all the resolutions I had made for myself to ensure success at the beginning of the New Year, and as I scanned the list and read off the many unrealistic, already failed tasks I was so motivated to complete at the time, I realized that this list was my first mistake.
First off, I was a little too optimistic about the amount of motivation I would have when I made this list. Second, and more importantly, nothing on this list sounded like me at all. Honestly, working out and reading every day is just not something I do naturally, and I don’t know what possessed me to think I would. Too often we all fall into this pattern of setting goals that force us to explore new things and make new habits all at once because we feel that we let too much time pass in the previous year with nothing to show for it. So we make these lists, thinking that if we write it down and maintain it throughout the year, we’ll become the kind of intelligent, organized, health nuts who succeed in everything. In this fantasy we’re also loved by everyone, well dressed, and have lots of money in the bank from all the saving we did that year. Yet every year we give up all together and throw away our dreams of a new, improved version of ourselves the second we fail. However, these lists we make, these ideas of “New Year, All New Me,” are garbage. I say “New Year, Same AND New You,” because we are all humans with faults, and we all mess up. We all have some bad habits, messy rooms, or a tendency to binge-watch all four seasons of New Girl while eating our weight in Nutella with no shame.
I realized that looking too far into the future caused me to forgo to appreciate my past and learn from my mistakes. During last semester, I always fell victim to getting lost in a pattern of self-criticism instead of self-embrace. I would look so deeply into my few failures—and dwell on their future effects, —and neglect to see the many small victories. After looking at the list for the first time, I felt a sense of shame because I had failed so quickly. This list was basically a glorified summary of flaws I saw in myself and felt I needed to change in order to find happiness. So I went back and made a different list! This time, I looked at the strengths and weaknesses that I could improve in time. When I finished my list, I was happy to see that the person I wanted to be in the future would still be me, and not the idealized person I wasn’t. I think it’s better for us to grow and find new parts of ourselves with time, and that a new year should serve more as a reminder for us to continue growing than an abrupt change in identity.
This year I might not always be able to read before class, or bring everything to class, but at least I will go to the class. After all, in the past there were days when I couldn’t even do that. My advice to those reading this is to be who you are, where you are, and embrace the capability you possess. Start each day knowing who you are; ready to grow or fall knowing that either can help you if you let it. And let each day, not just the entire New Year, serve as a reminder to celebrate as many victories as possible, no matter how small.
When I walked into class at 7:52 AM with a Pop-Tart and some supplies recently, I felt a sense of pride. Instead of feeling bad for eating so much sugar in the morning, I remembered to eat breakfast at least, and was early to class, dressed in proper quill attire. So, yeah, maybe I won’t be some fit, organized, ultimate success this time next year, but I do know that today I went to class with a Pop-Tart while listening to music, just doing me. In my book, that’s a sign that this semester will be just fine!
The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.