Unchecked boxes, incomplete plans and unaccomplished goals. I always feel like I’m reaching for the next thing and trying to do more, to be more. And it’s exhausting. Camping out in the what ifs rarely does any good, but instead it tears you down to the point of helplessness. As the semester winds down, I’m tempted to ruminate on all the things I could’ve done better: maybe I could’ve achieved more, maybe I could’ve responded differently, maybe I could’ve coped better.
And you know what? Maybe those are true.
Maybe I could’ve published more. Maybe I could’ve forgiven quicker. Maybe I could’ve panicked less. But the could haves only result in shame and defeat.Pushing yourself to be your best is a necessity, but rarely do we take the time to reflect on how far we’ve come and celebrate the seemingly little victories. I constantly analyze what I need to improve on, and while yes, there’s always room for improvement, there is so much to be patted on the back for in my life and yours.
This time last year I was preparing for a summer in France. I got on a plane by myself and arrived in a city that I’d never been to before and stayed with people whom I’d never met. I started speaking a language regularly that I was used to speaking several times a week for an hour at a time. I began grocery shopping and cooking for myself; I paid my rent and credit card bills all in a different language, from a different country.
I think about how lonely and unglamorous that summer was at times. It was a difficult summer, but I did it. I found healthy ways to cope like doing pilates with my roommate, finding a safe space and writing a book about the lessons I learned.The rest of the year saw immense change, some painful but others exhilarating and life-giving. The year saw growth in my relationships—a new one and deepening of friendships. Relationships are hard but beautiful. I can point back to pain I’d buried for years and see how it’s being redeemed—because it wasn’t and never is in vain. I learned to hold my head high when I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my bed out of sheer humiliation.
Through my relationship, I’m learning how both he and I are wired, and there’s strength in differences. In this relationship and others, I began to regain strength and to push shame aside. Emotions don’t have to be as scary as they seem.
I spent my semester working at a local newspaper as a business reporter. Orientation on that frigid January day seems like last week; my fear of the unknown feels inches away. And as my time there is wrapping up, I see how I’ve grown as a writer and thinker.It’s funny how we’re so quick to panic and think it’s the end of the world. Because I look back on this year and see so many of those “this is the end of the world” moments—and yet here I am, here you are. And we’re stronger for it.
We’re constantly being stretched, and that’s something I’m quick to resent. I hate being anxious, embarrassed, overwhelmed, confused and out of control, but it’s these times where we grow most and develop skills that can’t be taught. It’s hard to see over the hill, but it’s those moments shape and refine.And oh, how we miss out on celebrating our growth by forgetting where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. Now it’s your turn. Grab a journal, start a new Word document, open the notes section of your phone or lay in the grass and let your thoughts meander.
How have you matured these past 12 months? How have your fears evolved over this time span? What didn’t you think you could accomplish one year ago? Where have you been stretched? What was painful about this year? What character trait have you developed most? If you had to summarize this past year, what three key moments would define it? What emotion defines the last 12 months?