By Dr. Gretchen E. Mullin-Sawicki
As we embark on 2021, which all of us are anticipating with a true sense of relief, it’s always those days between the holidays and the New Year that I reflect upon the past to consider what I have learned. Like most, it was a year like no other complete with tear-jerking moments but also deep learning and accomplishment. Below are seven simple things that I learned in 2020 that can also apply to your college experience:
- Express emotions. I’ve never been an emotional person, but this year cracked me; it changed me in profound ways that have allowed me to empathize with others more deeply. You might feel uncomfortable, but expressing joy, sadness, or disbelief is authentic. Your emotions can guide and teach you. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings in class and to your professors. They’ll get to know you better, and you’ll get to know yourself better, too.
- Hard experiences build grit. Staying power is never challenged when things are easy – it’s only when life gets tough that we either choose to quit or keep going. It’s okay to want to quit, but don’t. Studying for exams and doing homework are never easy but they’re necessary to get to the next step, build your knowledge base, and get that great career. Become gritty and you will see the results.
- Confront anger silently. Difficult decisions inevitably lead to conflict, unkind words, and drama. Don’t engage, as sometimes there really is no win-win outcome. Certainly seek compromise but also recognize that emotion trumps fact and no fact will change how someone feels. In your class discussions, know when it’s time to speak up and when it’s time to listen quietly.
- Embrace your routines. Ten minutes of Duolingo, 25 minutes of yoga, a daily walk – these all bring me a small sense of accomplishment when so much is in flux. Bring routine to your study practices with standard times of the day or the same study snacks or study locations. Stick with these to create the peace and comfort that routine brings.
- Talk to strangers. It’s important to connect with others, no matter how insignificant this may seem. And, yes, you can do this from a distance and through Zoom, just keep smiling under those masks. It’s so important for students to make friends at college. Your peers can inspire you to not quit. They can help you with questions. They’re your cheerleaders and your network. Cherish your college friendships, and be the one that starts the conversation first. Extend yourself to befriend others.
- Allow yourself to be bored. Having the time to look back at your life without interruption allows you to reflect upon those big moments and set future goals. My 10-hour drive from Concord to Pittsburgh gives me this good boredom time where I plan and actively organize my life. So, make good use of quarantine time or time alone to allow your brain to relax into “default mode” and plan your next steps after graduation.
- Do something new every single year. This year, I started skiing. In the past, I studied taekwondo, took bag pipe lessons, tried ballet as an adult, became a Big Sister, and learned a new language. Creating something new for your life is refreshing and exciting. It can be intimidating, but this is good for you since it pushes you to keep learning. In college, you have wonderful opportunities to try new things: Go to workshops and events outside of class, volunteer for a leadership role in a student organization, join a club or study group. Learning happens inside and outside of the classroom. So, keep learning and happy 2021!