I don't know about you, but I'm feeling like a college senior who thought college would set me on a permanent life path, but instead I am left with more questions, more interests to pursue, and a list of a mere 22 things that I have learned.
1. I've learned what it's like to study something that is challenging but empowering. I have spent countless hours at libraries and coffee shops, trying to prove a theorem or solve a math problem. This past summer, from 9-5, Monday through Friday, I stood in front of a white board, writing out possible ideas and proofs. While my major has challenged me, it has also empowered me, helping me gain confidence in not only my math abilities but also teaching me how to manage my time and appreciate multiple approaches to a single problem.
2. I've learned to ask for help. This somewhat ties into studying something that challenges me; I have spent a good chunk of my college career in office hours, asking both other students and professors for help. But, the importance of valuing what others can give you extends beyond academics. I've asked my landlord and realtor for roommate advice. I've asked my roommate for love advice endlessly. I'm even that person at restaurants who always asks waiters and waitresses what they like most on the menu. Asking for help may feel like swallowing your pride, but I think it's important to realize that you can't and don't have to do it all on your own.
3. Also, I've learned to help. In the big picture sense, through multiple volunteer experiences, I have seen why we should all do what we can to help those in need or give back to our communities. On a smaller scale, we can help people by just listening to them vent on a bad day, or shooting a nice text.
4. I've learned why we should appreciate those small but unexpectedly great moments. From Shawn Anchor's TEDTalk on productivity and happiness, I started writing down three things I am grateful for each day. And, every night, when I recap on the day and think of the highlights, they tend to be small moments, like a good conversation with a coworker or great service at a restaurant. The best moments don't have to epic or seemingly life-changing; they can be small gestures of kindness.
5. I've learned to go after what you want. Whether it's a fitness or academic goal, you can't just wish for it or think the world owes it to you; you have to plan it out and work for it.
6. I've learned email etiquette, or at least, I'm working on it. There's no way getting around it; email is important and increasingly used for school, work, etc. One of new year's resolutions has been to respond to emails within two days, hopefully helping me kick my habit of reading emails, saying I'll reply later, and then -- being the hot mess I am -- forgetting to reply until three weeks later, starting the email with "Sorry for such a delayed response."
7. I have learned that love is so many things. Love is more than just romance and cutesy relationships on Instagram and Tumblr. Love can be for a time and place; I still look back at my time volunteering with Teach for America in Las Vegas with nothing but happiness and reminisce about this past summer in Berkeley. Love can be for your job or any other involvements you have. And, love can be for people in a non-romantic way. We tend to think we need love in our lives in only the romantic sense, but the right place, job, or friend can be the love we want, just not in the form we expected.
8. I have learned the importance of finding a workout that's actually fun. I used to think that working out was only something done to lose weight. But, after I got more into yoga and running, I've realized that exercise can be a great stress relief and a good outlet after a long day.
9. I've learned that it's okay to change your mind, and then change it again. As a college senior, I have changed my mind about my future career goals countless times. I wanted to go to graduate school, and then, no never mind, I wanted to drop it all and be a yoga instructor. And, no, forego that plan as well, I want to work in low-income schools. While it feels like you should have it all figured out, and some people definitely do, it's totally okay to want to explore and try out different interests. Recently, one of my first friends in college and I were talking about the future and how it's crazy to think that we're graduating in 2 months (*hyperventilates*), and he said "I came to college to help me figure out what I wanted to do, but I think it's just left me with more questions." And, I think most college seniors can identify with that statement; we entered hoping for an answer to the "What I do want I to be?" question and left with more options than we came in with. And, that is totally okay.
10. I have learned that piercings and tattoos can be fun. And maybe a little painful, but mostly fun. I entered college with only my ears pierced, not thinking I would want any more, but now I have five more ear piercings, my nose and septum pierced, and one tattoo. While many have commented on my piercings and tattoo in a negative way, asking what future employers will think and similar questions, I enjoy them. I like myself better with my nose ring on, septum piercing out, and tattoo showing, which is more important than any snarky comment I get.
11. I've learned that professors can have actual good life advice. Yes, professors are masters in their subjects, but they also can offer great life advice. One of my favorite professors ever talked to me about the importance of progress after I did badly on the first exam. He stressed that success isn't just getting a good grade, but it's about improvement. When I told professors that grad school wasn't for me (at least not right now), they were very supportive, sharing stories of how they took time off between undergrad and grad school, and how it helped them. Overall, while you can learn a lot about how to structure a proof or conduct a solid literary analysis from your professors, they can also offer helpful and applicable life advice.
12. I have learned how much trying to see the best in people or trying to get along with them helps so many scenarios. From working on a group project to living with others, it all goes so much smoother when you just like them as people. We tend to enter many group assignments just trying to get the tasks finished, but the best groups I have been in are when we also take some time to get to know each other and see each other as friends or at least acquaintances, rather than just a group of people forced to work together or share a dorm.
13. So, this one is more of an "unlearn." I've written a previous blog post about how so many magazines geared towards teen girls write articles like "How to Get a Boyfriend in 30 Days" or "What Hairstyles Guys like Best", reinforcing the idea that girls and women should center their lives on validation from males. And, for so many years, I read these magazines, wanting to do my hair or wear a tank top so a guy would notice me, thinking that having a boyfriend was the ultimate goal. But, girls and women should be told more often to pursue their interests, dress how they want, and focus on their friendships rather than how they could best dress to catch a man's attention or guys' opinions on the best flirting moves. So, overall, I've unlearned how much I should want to impress guys and seek their validation, despite what popular teen media may say.
14. I've learned (but am still trying to enforce) to lay off social media. I think most of us have heard about the dangers of social media, such as constantly comparing ourselves to others and focusing more on documenting and taking pictures rather than enjoying the moment. And, while it's easier said than done, it's important to learn to keep your phone in your bag, in your pocket, off the table, and enjoy what's happening face-to-face.
15. I have learned to go movies and concerts and bars on weekday nights. Sometimes, you need a break, and sometimes, you need to be spontaneous and take people up on their offer for that Tuesday night movie or Thursday night bar hopping. Yes, education and studying is important, but so are friendships, experiences, and memories.
16. I've learned to try to at least attempt some work-life balance. Sometimes, I'd feel guilty if I chose to redo my room décor or paint my nails when I had homework or other school-related things to do. But, you as a person, are so much more important than just your grades or your research experiences. Allow yourself to take breaks and pursue your hobbies without feeling guilty.
17. I have learned the importance of doing things that scare you. Last spring break, I was in Las Vegas (for volunteer work, as unbelievable as that may sound) and a couple people on the group were down to jump off the Stratosphere. Initially, I was not one of those people because of my fear of heights. But, I figured that if I could jump off this 108 story building, then I'd prove to myself that I could handle my fears. And, so I jumped, despite my nerves and my fears. Almost a year later, I'm glad I did; I still even have the picture of me landing as my profile pictures. While I don't usually get the chance to jump off 108 story buildings on the daily, each day has tiny moments of things that make me nervous, like applying for a job I really want or apologizing to someone when I realize that I'm in the wrong, and as hard as it can be, I continually strive to conquer these fears, as small or large as they may be.
18. I've learned to enjoy popular music with no shame. Justin Bieber's new album? Love it. One Direction? Still an obsessed fan.
19. I have learned that sometimes you just miss people and that's okay. As much as we all hate feeling like we're being too reminiscent or caught up on the past, sometimes you need to let yourself miss people and the friendships you had. Let yourself miss people, and on a bigger note, let yourself feel bad after a long day or sad after a breakup. Sometimes, we just want to feel happy, blocking out other emotions, but it's unhealthy to not own your feelings and ignore your emotions.
20. I've learned that a good way to deal with a "What am I going to do after I graduate?" freak out is to drink beer and watch 6 Disney films in one weekend. Part adulting, part being a 7 year old.
21. I have learned that sometimes you should just talk things out with people. You email someone. They call you. You text them. They Facebook message you. And, this could go on forever. But, some of my biggest stresses have been solved through just talking things out with people instead of texting or messaging or whatever else we do nowadays.
22. And, perhaps most importantly, I've learned to be wrong. I've learned to keep learning and revising and changing my opinions and viewpoints. So, twenty years from now, I may look back at this list and cringe in the horror of all my wrongness. But if that day comes, it'll be okay because it's important to be wrong about things and learn from these mistakes.