Throughout my life, I’ve always been someone to prioritize enjoying the moment: I never wanted to dwell too much on things, and I always wanted to feel present in everything that I did. Even when I felt sad or down, I wanted to find energy to pick me up elsewhere: seeing friends, watching a new TV show, going on an adventure - I found external ways of finding joy in my life, and while I found happiness and strength in embracing those things, it wasn’t until college that I realized that I couldn’t always look elsewhere for strength, and that living in the moment wasn’t always enough.
Now, this isn’t to say that I regretted the way I lived - to this day, I still push myself to let worries fade away, and in all honesty, I often find solace in the busiest of moments because I get wrapped up in what I’m doing. However, in college I learned the value of reflection, and I figured out how to find strength in myself during the most silent moments. I figured out that I couldn’t rely on others to heal any internal pain or confusion I had, and I started to realize that I couldn’t TRULY live in the moment without taking some time every so often to reflect on my life, my strengths, insecurities, hopes/dreams, fears, and passions. Once I realized that, I started to learn to appreciate myself more, as well as everything around me. I was better able to start appreciating life as it unfolded in the moment, and I had a better understanding of what it meant to savor time.
While this isn’t something that every college student faces, it’s something important enough to talk about: reflection, taking time for yourself, and truly feeling your strongest emotions doesn’t make you weak, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t living in the moment. In fact, for me, it was the opposite, and I found a lot of different ways to manage my own internal struggles, and mature a lot throughout college. Although that kind of growth looks different for everyone, I found a collection of practices that worked incredibly well for me:
1. Keep a journal: For some reason, growing up, people always made it feel like “writing in a diary” was silly and embarrassing. However, when I came to college, I found my voice in my words, and I realized that expressing emotions showed strength more than anything else. These past several years, I found solace in writing out my feelings in a way where no one else would ever read - I helped myself realize the internal struggles that I was battling with: through the annual devastation brought on by California’s wildfires, the Global Pandemic, the social division/prejudice and hatred (largely fueled by social media), you name it - journaling helped me record the moments I was most likely to, but most afraid of forgetting. I realized that 5, 15, 30, 50+ years down the line, I’d want to remember these moments: not just what happened and how my life turned out, but the emotions I felt, the people I loved, the dreams and aspirations I had, and the life changing moments that made me into who I am. I wanted to understand why I would become whoever I would become, and I knew that moments like these - the history we’re living through, was something I needed to remember (not just for myself, but to ensure that we collectively could actually move forward).
Keep a Dream Journal: Believe it or not, this is an incredibly good way to learn about yourself - or your subconscious for that matter. To me, it’s always been interesting to track my emotions, dreams, hopes, and fears through the scenarios and realities that my mind makes up when I’m not paying attention. Sometimes they’re funny and non sequitur, or sometimes they’re enlightening because they bring up concerns I may have not thought about before. Regardless, writing down my dreams as soon as I wake up helps me stay grounded, and understand myself on a deeper level. (Plus, you never know, maybe one day I’ll have a million dollar invention/idea come to me in a dream!)
Keep a “Goals” Journal: While this can go hand-in-hand with your daily “general” journal, it can be exciting to keep a whole separate journal just for your dreams/goals/talents you want to learn. I keep a separate notebook that I populate whenever I have a new idea for an art project I want to take on, when I see someone perfecting a skill I want to learn (skateboarding, crocheting, etc.), or when I have a larger life goal I want to strive towards. This helps me keep track of all the momentary feelings of motivation and excitement about life and all there is to learn in life - moments that could be otherwise fleeting and would never be pursued fully.
2. Go outside. No seriously, actually go outside: particularly during the pandemic, when most of us have been told to stay inside and limit outdoor interaction beyond our “social bubble,” it can be hard to will yourself to get outside your home and go on a walk/run/hike. However, getting outside is possibly the most natural thing you could do for yourself. As humans, we’re born to be outside, and our mental chemistry reflects that. Going on a hike or getting out for a run gets your blood flowing, you feel happier on a chemical level, and you reset your own mood. Even if you don’t feel like running, getting a change of scenery is the best thing you can do for yourself, especially when you feel like there’s nothing you can do to help your own mental state. For me, I always love hiking/running to somewhere with an aerial view (in Berkeley, I love hiking into the hills enough for me to gaze over the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge). I see my own life from above, and all of my smaller problems start to feel farther away when I’m way up above them. While you can’t necessarily escape your problems that way, you can give yourself enough distance from them that your brain feels more capable of managing the stress and anxiety that they bring.
3. Reading for Fun: This is something that I always told myself I would do throughout college, but found it really hard to do because of all of the time that was taken up by “required readings” for class. I felt myself lose interest in reading for fun, since most of my “free-time” I wanted to do all the social things that homework kept me away from. However, once I really put my mind to investing in a book from the local book-exchange store (my personal favorites are always crime/mystery novels), I realized how rewarding it was to follow a mythical/fictional story each night before I went to bed, even if it was just for a chapter or 2. I found myself getting drawn in, and before I knew it, I was longing to get back to my book every day. I found it more engaging than even a TV show or movie, because in a way I felt invested. For me, all it took was finding my favorite genre, and setting aside just 5-10 minutes (or several hours) to let my mind wander to another reality.
4. Arts & Crafts: For me, art has always been a release: drawing painting, sculpting, you name it. Any art materials I can get my hands on bring me a lot of joy - even if to some those materials look like trash. So, whenever I have time to let my mind wander, I indulge myself with a creative outlet. For me, it helps me build confidence - I get time to develop a skill I care about, getting better and better each time I practice. I find more worth in myself every time I make a piece I am proud of, and it’s always something that makes me feel like I have complete control over something in my life. These days more than ever, art makes me feel empowered, because it can be a form of personal emotional release, but it can also manifest itself through real-world designs. In fact, that’s why I chose design as a major - I found an outlet that made me happy in my free time, and I knew that I wanted to find a way to apply that passion in the real world to make a good impact. When you want to be creative, you can make anything: it doesn’t matter if it’s just squiggles, or a whole masterpiece carved from wood - if it makes you feel good, that’s a perfect avenue to take care of yourself.
5. Resume/Professional Prep: Believe it or not, this can be something that reduces stress (maybe when it’s not something you’re pressured to do in the moment, but rather is something you choose to do when you’re not in the middle of frantically applying to jobs or submitting applications). The reason why this strange topic is tacked onto this blog is because it can actually be an empowering exercise for you to reflect on your own achievements, catalog all the experiences you’ve had, and jot down your strengths, weaknesses, and career goals. Creating your resume can be exciting when you put all of your skills and accomplishments in one place, and you’re able to step back and see your own growth over time. Often, I forget the awards I’ve won, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, and the skills I’ve built over my time as a student and professional, so being able to figure out how to word my experiences and best showcase my skills gives me a confidence boost that helps me get through any discouraging times (particularly in this job market)!
6. Talk to someone! When all else fails, or even just when you need it most, don’t feel afraid to reach out and talk to someone about the insecurities or challenges you may be feeling. You can find a therapist, your parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, our consulting team - whoever you think of when you think of your safe space, and you can lean on them when times get hard. None of us gets through life alone, and coming to the realization that we all lean on each other will help you ultimately build more strength and confidence in yourself, and maintain healthier, stronger relationships with those around you.
Sarah is a Consultant on the Study Hall College Consulting Team. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley in the class of 2020 where she majored in Architecture and minored in Spanish Language and Literature. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.