Why 2017 was the best “worst” year of my life:
Not achieving my goals has been the best thing to happen to me.
I had gotten positive decisions so far. I was confident I’d get into my final school (also my top choice.) That was until a car appeared out of nowhere. I was going to hit it. I swerved, but it was too late. The car hit my back tire and my SUV rolled over. Onto oncoming traffic. Before I could understand what had happened, I was upside down. Pinned in my seat. The smell of burning oil engulfed the air. Hoards of people surrounded me.
I put the car in park. Turned off the engine. Wrangled out of the seat, broke the window open and crawled out into the street. My feet didn’t stop shaking for the rest of the day.
My 17-year-old-self had never experienced anything like this. I was driving straight, following the speed limit yet another person’s incompetence almost took my life. I was inches from being rammed into parked cars. I was seconds away from the light turning green and oncoming traffic crushing me. I ended up getting into my top school (GO BEARS!), but my outlook on life would never be the same.
My accident may have only constituted a few minutes of my 2017, but it served as a telling metaphor for this year and life in general. It seems like everything is going as planned. Until it isn’t.
2017 was the year I turned 18 and became an “adult” in the eyes of society. But it also served as a pivotal moment for my personal growth and maturation. I have experienced a lot of things this year. Some that were expected for my age. Some that weren’t. Many things I did not expect and did not go my way. From all these twists and turns, I have emerged more self-aware and confident.
As 2017 comes to end, I have reflected and learned the importance of the following lessons:
Note: These lessons are completely anecdotal and subjective. They are influenced by the privileges I have experienced in my life. They should not be viewed as normative statements.
Happiness is an Attitude, not a State:
From a societal perspective, there is no reason why 2017 wasn’t the best year of my life. I am on track to graduate from “the #1 Public University in the World” at the ripe age of 19. I won a national collegiate debate championship at the age of 17. However, I have learned, societal accomplishments do not translate into internal happiness.
There will always be the next prestigious degree to obtain. A better salary. A nicer car. Furthermore, there will always be someone who is more “successful” in the eyes of society. At the end of the day, only you can be the source of your happiness. Philosophical discussions aside, I have learned contentment is the road to “happiness.” This is especially important in our materialist society. To enjoy life and be “happy,” you have to appreciate what you have and be grateful.
Two concrete steps have helped me incorporate this lesson into my daily life:
I take a moment every day to be content with my life. This also works for when I need a confidence boost.
For example, I try doing the following template-style statements:
“I am proud of myself for ____”
“I am grateful for ____”
Putting my happiness first:
When I am unhappy or unsatisfied with something, I am sure to critically engage with those emotions. I ask myself “Why do I care so much about ___.” Many times, my source of unhappiness is not internal but rather external. I, as with many people, have a habit of seeking external validation by society. I want to impress others and be viewed as successful. Many times, this exists in conjunction with comparisons between my “success” and those of others. The fact is, you can’t 100% control what people think. There will always be someone viewed as more “perfect.” There will always be someone who doesn’t like you. But you can 100% control yourself and try to not let others opinions of you affect your own life. All that matters is your own happiness and conscious. Don’t let others detract from this.
“Failure” is inevitable:
In our always online, always working society, it is too easy to lose the big picture. We believe everything is under our control. We always want to work towards our goals. The reality is not everything is under our control. And when things don’t go our ways and we “fail,” it is too easy to fall into despair and depression. I experienced this first-hand this year. Not everything went my way. I didn’t achieve many of the goals I had. (Shout Out to Cal’s grade deflation and super competitive club recruitment).
In the face of the roller coaster that is life I have learned to incorporate the following attitudes:
You can’t control things 100%:
I am a type A person and make a to-do list and calendar for everything. Yet, I have learned no plan can actually account for life’s variables. Some things will inevitably not go your way (ask Hillary Clinton). I still make plans but remember that some might not go my way. And when they don’t, I pick myself up and keep going. I can’t control what happened, but I can control my attitude and next steps.
Relax and Reflect:
In the midst of being busy, it is easy to get lost in it all. Living in an urban college town environment has especially made me cognizant of this. (It is very hard to relax and reflect when there are ambulances every 15 minutes.) Thus, I make sure to take an hour or two every week to escape the hustle and bustle. I will drive to a quiet or secluded space and just relax and reflect (meditation/mindfulness is also good). These breaks enable me to be more refreshed and creative in my work. They enable me to “escape” all the things that might be causing my stress/anxiety/frustration. Nature is great for this, but also anything that allows you to get things off your mind.
A Side Note on Motivation:
As a type A person, I can be too hard on myself and overwhelm myself. Thus, these lessons are especially relevant for me and people like me. In no way do I mean to promote laziness or lack of planning. Everything in life should exist in moderation. It is important to work hard and be motivated. It is also important to realize life’s variables and remember to relax. This both helps a person maintain their mental health and increases productivity.
I am still 18 and thus have a lot to learn. I am not all-knowing (no one really is). I aim to use this blog to help myself acknowledge my growth and offer quasi-advice. I aimed to convey many lessons in this piece that have helped me achieve happiness and stay motivated.
Nonetheless: Everyone has experienced a different year with different lessons. I urge you to think of some End of the Year Reflections before creating some New Year’s Resolutions. You might not have almost died this year, but you have grown just as much (if not more). You deserve recognition and acknowledgment.