This year taught me more about myself and the world around me than I could ever want to know.
From being catapulted out of my sense of normalcy to navigating Harvard classes from my childhood home in Okeechobee, Florida, I have gathered 20 lessons, 20 platitudes that encapsulate most of the growing pains that I endured as a remote student in 2020.
- Listen to your body whisper so you don’t have to hear it scream. I wish that I had come up with this line myself, but I came across it on Instagram and it spoke volumes. Our body often signals us before catastrophe ensues. The headaches, the restlessness, the irritability aren’t coincidental. I found peace in taking care of the little things before they manifested into bigger things.
- Closed mouths don’t get fed. My needs were hardly ever accommodated unless I articulated them to others. Ask for that extension. Let someone know when they hurt your feelings. Demand more from others. Be your biggest advocate. Oftentimes, folks will show up for you if you just ask them to.
- My worth does not lie in my productivity. Whether I cross off everything on my to-do list or if my biggest accomplishment of the day is brushing my teeth, I am still a valuable human being. This was one of the hardest lessons to learn. We often become disillusioned and think our worth lies in our accolades, but our value is inherent. I am so glad I came to the realization this year!
- The little things matter. I wish I could articulate just how much of an impact a random text, a meticulously curated playlist, a Zoom message, or a letter in the mail has had on me, especially in the latter half of this year. When the lecture inevitably got too heavy to bear, sometimes all it took was the little message from a classmate to remind me that everything would be okay. The little things that people have done for me to show that they care have had the largest effect on my heart.
- There is power in stillness. It is so easy to get caught up in busy culture at Harvard. We wear exhaustion like a badge of honor. We take pride in having every hour filled with something to do. I realized that the most formative moments of this year were not marked with exhaustion or a block of time in my calendar. Instead, they were marked with stillness. When I had the courage to stop and to listen to my heart and my mind, I grew the most. There is immense power in being still.
- There’s no point in showing up if I’m not present. Class, meetings, office hours – all of these places meant so little when my physical state and mental state weren’t aligned. I could never make the most of any opportunity if I was consumed with other matters. If my body and my mind couldn’t show up at the same time, there was no point in being there.
- Choose people who feel like home. I may not have had the opportunity to choose what happened to me this year, but I could choose who accompanied me on this journey. Someone once told me that some people make you want to go home and others feel like home. Choose the people who feel like home. I am grateful that I chose folks that make me feel loved, cared for, and appreciated this year.
- Run your race. It’s so easy to compare myself to my friend or my neighbor who seems to have it all together, although I try to make the intentional choice not to. I’ve learned to give myself grace and run my race. My success, my happiness, and my peace is not contingent upon what happens in the lane next to me.
- Take the time to fill your cup. For me, it’s so easy to pour into others. The harder part is finding the time, the courage, and the willingness to fill my own cup. Reading a Toni Morrison novel, getting overdressed simply to prance around the house, and taking a few mindful minutes each day were all ways that I filled my cup this year. As a result, I showed up to spaces whole and complete.
- Find what’s draining you and patch that hole. Tangential to the previous lesson, taking care of myself wasn’t solely about finding ways to make myself feel better, but also actively evaluating what things made me feel anxious and inadequate. Your energy is valuable. Any space or any person that steals your spark ought not to have access to you. For me, that looked like dropping a class and a few extracurriculars that were draining, and redirecting my focus on classes and extracurricular activities that made me feel more whole.
- New problems require new solutions. I have always enjoyed critical thinking and problem solving. This year, I had to do more than my fair share of those things. Whether that was how I could be academically productive without the luxury of a latte from Jenny's Cafe in the Harvard Art Museum, a cubby in the Cabot Library, or in a study group in the Lamont Basement was pretty tough. I learned that I could make a pretty great latte on my own, that a closet in my home is as cozy as a cubby, and a Zoom study hall with friends is pretty similar to the real deal! I've enjoyed thinking outside the box and watching the magic that ensues.
- Pick your battles. Protect your peace. I quickly realized that a battle wasn’t worth fighting if it cost me my peace of mind. Wisdom is being able to discern what can be done from what is worth doing. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, thus I’ve chosen peace by picking my battles wisely.
- Old dogs CAN learn new tricks. This year, I’ve tried Crossfit, meditating, creative writing, candle-making (which quickly turned into candle-buying), plant-keeping, and so many other things that I never considered doing before. While I’m no Maya Angelou and I certainly haven’t acquired a green thumb, finding new hobbies and discovering new interests have been both refreshing and rewarding.
- Individuals can wield change. This year, the United States has had a reckoning with a pandemic and that has been compounded with a reckoning with race. I have found inspiration in my peers and other figures who are on the frontlines, fighting both COVID-19 and racial injustice. So many students groups on campus are planting the seeds today to ensure for a garden. From town halls to call-a-thons to petition-signing events, folks on this (virtual) campus are putting in the work to change the world every single day.
- Intent doesn’t equate to impact. In a class discussion, one of my professors stopped me in my tracks when she uttered the words: “The mindless heart often gets us in trouble.” It’s so important to realize that we can cause harm even though our heart is in the right place. We still owe others an apology and we ought to take responsibility when intentions don’t align with the impact of our actions. This year, I had to recognize the unintentional consequences of my actions and work hard to right those wrongs.
- Find magic in the mundane. Working from home quickly became monotonous so I had to find ways to make the most mundane tasks fun. Complimenting a friend or a complete stranger in class via Zoom Chat and seeing their face light up in real time made virtual school that much more bearable! I try to find at least one way to brighten up the most dull activities every day!
- Feel the losses. As a human race, we have lost a lot this year. I have lost a lot this year. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the feelings that ensue because of these losses. Grieving doesn’t make us weak; it makes us human. It’s okay to not be okay. Feel those losses.
- Celebrate the wins. If you’ve made it to December of 2020, THAT is worth celebrating. I love celebrations. This year, I have been intentional about celebrating the little things and celebrating the big things. I love baking myself some brownies when I found the strength to do a workout. After turning in a big assignment, the best gift I can give myself is putting on a fresh pair of pajamas and watching my favorite movies from the comfort of my bed. Celebrating my wins and celebrating the wins of others encourages me to keep winning too.
- I’m never really alone. In the darkest moments of this year, someone was always there. My family, my best friends, my therapist, the person who messages me in Zoom class each week to tell me they appreciated my insight or my makeup that day – they all served as reminders that I never have to walk through this life alone. People see me. People hear me. I was never alone even if I felt like it some days.
- Growth hurts. I wish I could say that these lessons were easy and painless to learn. Unfortunately, it hurt. A lot. You know what they say though: no flowers, no rain.
It would be disingenuous for me to say that I’m happy that I was sent home, that I’m happy that my time on campus was cut short or that I'm happy that haven’t seen my friends in months. That’s not it. Things improve when we stop, reflect, and take actionable steps to ensure a better tomorrow. While I'm not sure what the next year and next semesters will entail, I do know that I have been equipped with 20 lessons to help me weather the storms ahead.