It hasn’t been a pretty year.
It has been a year of trying (and failing) to achieve balance.
It has been full of laughter and tears in equal parts. I joined (and dropped out of) a sorority, and met a girl I now consider to be one of my best friends. I got my first D in a college class, cried on the phone about it, then emailed my advisor about grade replacement options the next morning. I was rejected from my dream internship. I’ve fallen on my face. I’ve been lonely. I’ve made mistakes.
But I’ve also learned. I’ve had fun. I went on a road trip with my best friends and attended my first music festival. I adopted a kitten who is now the light of my life. I signed the lease on my first apartment. I decided once and for all that frat parties are the absolute worst and to stop wasting energy pretending they’re fun.
It’s easy to write off 2016 as a bad year that you want to dump in the trash and pretend never happened (like all those pictures of you in braces with frizzy blue hair and acne). It was certainly one of the most challenging years for me. However, nothing is ever completely good or completely bad. If 2016 was filled with darkness for you, don’t forget to reflect on the scattered moments of light. Don’t write off the entire year without weighing it collectively and intentionally.
Gala Darling wrote an article that has a bunch of insightful questions to help you take stock of where you’re at and how to move forward from there:
1. What were your top five moments of the year?
Number one has to be meeting Albus (my cat) for the first time and taking him home. I was absolutely terrified by the responsibility he brought to my life but he has completely changed me for the better. Second is going to my first musical festival; it was in my favorite city, with my favorite people, and I got to see so many of my favorite artists. Moment number three is the weeklong beach vacation I took with my family and Isabel (a girl who has been my friend for twelve years). Number four is totally cheating but it has to be all of the wonderful picnics and hiking trips boyfriend took me on over the summer at the lake (these were always days full of sunshine and love). And finally, moment five was on one of the first snow days at my school; my friend Emma and I walked around writing jokes in the snow and drawing pictures on frosted windows. After, we came back to my room a shivering mess to make hot chocolate and watch an ocean documentary, and I ended up falling asleep on her.
2. What are you really glad is over?
THIS SEMESTER. My classes were all technically challenging prerequisites that I wasn’t interested in or passionate about. There was a lot of math, coding, and accounting that I really struggled to do well in. Even if next semester is just as hard, there are at least two classes that I’m interested in so I’m looking forward to not being as creatively drained by my schoolwork.
3. How are you different today than you were 365 days ago?
My hair is a lot shorter. I shouldered a high amount of stress and came out alive. I’m a pet owner. I’m older. I started working at a coffee shop. I learned that when other people lash out because of their own issues it isn’t my fault. I’m (slightly) more patient. I wear my glasses almost every day now. I’ve acquired even more big, comfy sweaters.
4. Is there anything you achieved that you forgot to celebrate?
I try to celebrate every happy moment I possibly can. The only thing I can think of is that I put on my big girl pants, went alone to apartment showings, liaised with realtors, shopped around, and found a nice place to live that I can afford all on my own (even if I do have to get a second job). Independence is scary and sometimes my anxiety makes me avoid things until it’s too late, but I’m proud that I pushed myself further into this nutty, adult world.
5. What have you changed your perspective on this year?
The idea of success is really arbitrary and you have to define it for yourself.
6. Who are the people that really came through for you this year?
I have a core group of 4-5 friends that are my absolute rock; I can tell them anything, ask them for anything, and do anything with them. They are my family and have never let me down and I work my butt off to hopefully be half as amazing to them as they are to me. My aunt and uncle and nana are always unquestionably supportive of me and are some of my favorite people in the universe to spend time with. And my boyfriend is an incredibly loving, sweet soul who puts in massive efforts in our LDR, is my best friend in the world, and teaches me how to be a better person and partner.
7. What is something you tolerated for a long time, but now will not?
I firmly believe in setting standards for what behavior you will and will not accept. I used to be friends with toxic people that constantly talked bad about me and everyone else behind their backs. I used to be in relationships where I didn’t make my needs a priority so I let myself be treated like my existence was optional. These are BAD THINGS and I make it a point not to accept them from people who want to be in my life.
You want to be my friend? Then you can’t tell my secrets and make fun of me to other people.
You want to date me? Then you can’t ignore my feelings and hide things from me.
You want to keep me in your life? Then you can’t make me feel like shit.
Basically, I like to operate on complete honesty, trust, and mutual respect with the people in my life and I am SO blessed right now to be surrounded by people that honor these boundaries and even set their own. Life is too short to spend it with shitty people.
8.What old beliefs did you let go of?
Marriage being a successful, lifelong endeavor. This sounds so depressing and a little hypocritical (since I wouldn’t mind getting married somewhere far down the road) but I don’t really think “until death to we part” is possible. Sorry–it’s definitely possible, but I don’t think it’s possible HAPPILY. I know plenty of divorced couples, but even overlooking them I know plenty of long-term married couples who completely hate each other. Of course, rough patches happen and not everything in a marriage can be sunshine and unicorn farts, but I feel like I’m surrounded by married people that are deeply unhappy with their partners and are just waiting for that final straw.
OBVIOUSLY this is not me saying that every marriage is doomed or unhappy. That would be ridiculous. But the idea of happily ever after has been rattling around in my mind a lot recently and, out of all the married couples I know, there’s maybe one that’s still truly happy. So the idea that if I ever got married I could potentially, forty years down the road, wake up and hate the person I’m sleeping beside is deeply unsettling.
9. What was one thing you found really challenging, but can now see supported your growth?
This semester in college, I’ve plummeted academically and haven’t advanced in my career. Yay. Seriously, though, I think it’s safe to say that my self-esteem is no longer so closely tied to my academic success. My entire life I could define myself as the “good, straight-A student” but this semester I watched that identity crumble around me and–surprise–I’m still here. Good grades are important, but they’re not everything. Being a good person and being successful extend way beyond what my transcript shows.
10. If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself this time last year?
I would tell myself to stop trying to skate by on natural smarts and invest way more time in grappling with my school material. I would say that I’m going to have incredibly busy, stressed filled days ahead and that I have to find betters way of coping. I would remind myself of all the love and support I’m surrounded by, and I would remind myself that it’s okay to lean on the people who love you when life gets too hard to swallow. And, above all, I’d tell myself to work every day against becoming an apathetic passenger in my own life. The promise of living on autopilot is highly alluring, and I give into it more than I should, but staying proactive is the only way to live a fulfilling life.
Happy New Years to you all, I hope you carve out some time for your own reflection before the year is over. Change is uncomfortable but if you’re serious about it, you can’t avoid the process.