I’ve spent a lot of time these last few weeks considering how I’m going to live better.
At the start of new seasons, I tend to dream up ways to reinvent myself.
My freshman year of college, I forced myself into an extrovert’s role so that I could make friends. So that people would like me.
As a sophomore, I headed into the pursuit of joy, perhaps spurred on by an obsession with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. (I still organize by her methods, but I completely reject what she has to say about the proper amount of books to own).
But these reinventions didn’t stick. Not really.
By the end of sophomore year, I still had no self-confidence and my self-esteem had plummeted. I hadn’t managed to reach that “self-actualization” that everyone else in college seemed to stumble into (even if that self-actualization was temporary before pivoting to a new, self-actualized self).
I’m entering a new season of college, one with fewer friends than usual, in a new living situation surrounded by new people. And what I want, more than anything, is to start on the right foot this time.
But what even is the right foot? I feel like I’ve traversed many different paths in the last two decades and none have been effective enough.
Today is the first of a three part series on nine behaviors* that I’m going to purposely focus on this semester that will hopefully get me out of my head and back into a vibrant life.
Love Others on Purpose
We all want to love our neighbors (at least, theoretically). It’s just the nice thing to do.
You make sure to smile at people you know in passing. You occasionally reach out and offer to grab coffee with someone (though whether that coffee date ever actually happens is another story).
But what would it look like if, everyday, you woke up with the purpose of finding ways to care about other people.
If my first thought in the morning was “how can I show love to my roommates today?”, what about my behavior would change?
If, while sitting in class, I looked for ways to show the random person sitting next to me that I care, what would I do differently?
One day last week, I was waiting for the bus to take me to campus. As it turned the corner, I realized I forgot my Airpods. And I didn’t have any wired earphones either. I had no choice but to get on the bus, knowing that for the next six or seven hours, I would have nothing to do while walking in-between classes. I wouldn’t be able to escape into music when doing homework in a study space. I’d have to be the weird person who stared at the walls while I ate dining hall food for lunch.
I realized, sitting crammed in between two people on the bus, that without my Airpods, I’d get to spend the entire day more aware of my surroundings. More aware of the people next to me.
But I’ve been so programmed to do my own thing – listen to my own music, sit next to strangers in class without talking, eat lunch quickly – that this opportunity didn’t become anything significant. Even without my Airpods, I walked through my day distracted, allowing a perfect opportunity to notice and care about other people pass me by.
What if I had leaned into that opportunity more?
What if, going forward, I pull away from distractions that disconnect me from others and set out, everyday, with the purpose of noticing people? (And maybe that means forgetting my Airpods on purpose).
Find Joy with the Collective
Everything this last year has been about doing things that bring joy, being in environments that spark joy, and ultimately, pursuing joyfulness in everyday life.
But the way I’ve pursued joy makes it feel like a solo quest.
I’m finding my personal joy. But it’s not shareable. It’s not community based.
I find joy in buying random objects at estate sales. But these weird figurines and bookends and whatever else I purchase don’t really connect me to others.
I love reorganizing my bookshelves. But if I’m doing it alone, how is that making other people’s lives more joyful too?
It’s good to pursue personal joy and moments of rest. But I think it’s even better to find joy in things other people can partake in too. Doing joyful activities together, especially ones that brighten other people’s days, will almost always be better.
This summer, I returned to the bookish joy of my younger self.
But for some reason, I couldn’t go to bookstores and read books and admire pretty covers alone. I was overcome with excitement and wanted to share it with others.
So I created a Bookstagram.**
My page is super small. Not even 70 people follow me. And yet, being able to post pictures of books and see what other people are reading brings me so much joy. It’s a small way for me to contribute to a bigger community that finds joy collectively.
Instead of pursuing personal joy, I want to start pursuing a joy that others can benefit from.
I know several people who exude joy. It’s infectious. It’s so fun to be around. Their willingness to spread the joy fills me up way more than any personal joy I find on my own.
Pursue Peace in the Struggle
I feel like every time I catch up with a friend, I hear myself saying “Well, things have been kind of difficult for me…”
It seems like the moment one difficult season passes, another one takes its place. Sometimes multiple storms pile on top of each other and I feel like I’m being crushed by the pressure. And in the midst of these difficulties, all I can think is “But I’m just in college, I have a whole life ahead of me. The storms will probably get much worse, so why do I feel like I’m drowning now?”
I’m sure part of this perception stems from my own bias. I could be considered dramatic at times. I have big feelings. My current situation is probably not always as bad as I think it is.
But another part of this is simply an effect of my season. College is a difficult place to be – academically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Friendships, expectations, classes – everything is constantly changing and shifting.
If my life is constantly a struggle, I won’t be able to sustain myself. I’ll wear out. I’ll give up.
Yet, I believe it is possible to find peace in the storm.
Not from the storm. Not peace in reprieve.
But contentment in what I have now, regardless of whether it is easy or hard.
My mom and I took a road trip to bring me to college this year. It was the longest drive of my life… and I was anxious the entire way.
My worries switched between career angst to homework anxiety without any warning. I’d stress out about being away from my family and that my new roommates won’t like me. I’d over-think the logistics of everything, from moving in to going to church to commuting to school on the first day.
And it’s not like the road trip went entirely to plan either. At one point, we were caught in a heavy rainstorm for two hours and were forced to go 45 mph on a 75 mph freeway. On the same day, I locked the keys in the car at a tiny gas station forty miles away from any town. We also had to navigate a few toll booth – and once, we didn’t have enough coins, which set off an alarm as we sped away.
How could there be any peace in a road trip that went wrong multiple times and was filled with prolonged anxiety?
How can there be any peace when I’m literally stuck in my current season? I can’t skip parts I don’t want to live. I can’t fast forward to see if life ends up okay. I just have to keep moving forward, letting peace replace angst and stress.
In two weeks, I’ll be back with another three attitudes and behaviors that I hope to pursue in my new season back in school. I hope you’ll find them useful too.
Until then, let me know your thoughts. How will you pursue these three attributes this week?
*As a Christian, a lot of my articles are based on principles of my faith. You can find all nine behaviors in Galatians 5:22-23. I won’t be quoting scripture since that’s not the focus on this blog, but I want to be transparent about where my ideas are coming from.
**You can find a link to my Bookstagram on the left hand side of this page. Or you can click here. Say hi if you join me on my bookish adventure!