Every Stressed College Student: Stop and Read This Now

Thought Catalog

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games

Before you read this, take a moment. Make a list of 5 things (simple things) you are grateful for.

Ready, go.

Now read:

Dear fellow academians, nerdy engineers, hopeful future doctors, lawyers, movers, and shakers of the world, college students enduring the final round of hunger games (higher education edition), this is your reality check:

It’s finals week and you’re all stressed to the brim of your intellectual capacity. You have 4 exams, 3 papers, a thesis proposal, research presentation, and 975 other things you’d rather do, all weighing you down like an anchor strapped to your waist. You’re stressed, and you’re anxious. You may be at your breaking point, and if you’re like I was this morning, you may be crying into your morning Americano at the Starbucks in the city’s center over the fact that your life is just a shitshow extravaganza right now. If…

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Understanding Relationships

Relationships. They’re crucial to humanity. Relationships bring us some of the greatest joys in life. How wonderful to be able to share in successes, triumphs, and glee! But then again, relationships can also cause of some of the deepest pains in life. Confusion, heartache, and stressful rumination leave us feeling lost and discouraged.

In October, I made a declaration:

“I am bad at relationships.”

What I didn’t realize is just how much the other person would jump all over this remark. She said that it was a bit of a generalization and that while there may be certain areas that are not my strengths, surely I couldn’t be absolutely awful since I do have friends. In the six months since this conversation, I have been pondering what exactly I meant by this statement and how I might go about rectifying it.

I began by writing down all the relational areas in which I struggle. It was quite a list! And then I shared the list so that I might go about actively changing certain behaviors and thought processes in an attempt to be less stressed about this area of life. Through this process I have learned a number of things about myself and about relationships in general.

First, there’s a fundamental error in my original statement. “I’m bad at relationships.” Think about it. In four words, I have transformed a condition of being into a condition of doing. Relationships are not a mathematical problem to be solved, much to the dismay of my scientific mind. Sure, relationships take effort, but there’s also a beauty to simply living a life intertwined with other lives.

Second, you can’t “fix” relationships, which is something I struggled with this year. Some relationships are prone to attrition, and you have to ask yourself why you’re even bothering to invest, change yourself, and resolve conflict that only you feel. Who are you trying to benefit? Relational growth takes effort on both ends. Plus, I don’t think a relationship can ever be “fixed.” It can be improved, reconciled, etc., but relationships cannot be broken and repaired in the same manner as a clock or a bicycle. They’re more like bones that will forever carry the scar of injury but will eventually grow stronger than before as the osteoblasts reconnect the fragments with fervor.

I gave a speech in my Communications class last October about resolving cross-cultural conflict. Many of those concepts can be adapted to any conflict situation, not just one of culture clash. I don’t think anyone caught the irony. But I certainly felt like I should have a better handle on my own relational distress if I am informing others how to manage theirs.

This year, I have seen broken relationships mend and grow deeper than ever before. There’s something about collectively working through hurt that grows relationships like nothing else. This is something I’ve never experienced before now. Normally I’m more than willing to end a relationship because I cannot foresee the joy of reconciliation as being worth the pain of forgiveness and healing.

Third, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to “fake it till you become it.” At first this frightened me with respect to relationships. What if I’m only pretending that I’m okay and then the next time something happens I’ll explode? Nope. Forgiveness is a way of living, and sometimes you just have to force your brain to move to the same place your heart has already reached.

I’ve also seen this idea worked out in terms of developing new relationships. By the end of the fall semester, I sensed a budding closeness with one of my professors, and I was terrified. I was nervous to begin a new relationship when I knew I would be graduating in a few months. Plus, I found it scarily easy to open up to her and seek advice, even if I had no idea how she would handle my trust. Luckily, all is well. But still, I had to convince myself that it’s okay to trust people. It’s okay to let them into those deepest, darkest parts of my heart. If people are engaged in meaningful relationships, then they do not mind helping each other out. They want to be involved in the stuff or life together!

And finally, I’ve learned that relational struggles will always exist. Everyone is human, which means that everyone makes mistakes. But, life is a journey of occasionally stepping over boundaries too far and allowing God’s grace to fill you and draw you back. With the help of wise mentors, I have been able to discern how to act in various conflict situations. I have learned from the mistakes I make now, and I feel more equipped to handle relational difficulties as they arise in the future.

Relationships are not easy, but they are certainly a mess worth making!

Looking Backwards: 2015-2011

Spring 2015 has been a time of reflection, and lots of it! As I conclude my undergraduate time at Messiah and prepare for life beyond, I have spent many hours pondering the last four years of my life. I can’t say that I imagined myself being in my present position. In high school, I waited until the last minute to even select a school from my seven acceptances. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Maybe I wanted to go into genetics. Maybe.

And then college happened.

Let’s take a look:

Freshman year I was very intimidated. Roommates were rough. Science was not my strength, yet somehow I was doing remarkably well in my English class. Hmm. Complete reversal from high school; I even had an essay published! I knew only one thing for sure: my major (molecular biology) was not going to last!

Sophomore year I switched my major to biopsychology. Best decision. I loved my major! In the spring, I found myself really drawn to a new professor. She had my vision of an ideal job, plus she was really cool! I also began a mentorship of sorts with a pastor from my church. I became a leader in my dance ministry too, which really helped me to feel more at home at Messiah.

Junior year brought much growth. I grew deeper and closer with my mentor. I allowed her to see into my heart. My passion for neuroscience was affirmed. I began to put myself out there and grow closer with professors. I secured a spot doing research in the new professor’s lab. And then I studied abroad. I learned to loosen up and be lighter on myself. I learned to strive less. I learned to let God’s grace fill my life because I am weak on my own.

And then came senior year. This has been a wonderful year. Of course I’ve had my fair share of challenges, but I’ve seen God work to revolutionize my thinking. I’ve worked hard to invest in the young adult ministry at my church, which has been super rewarding. I’ve experienced multiple broken relationships, but I’ve also learned to allow God into my heart which then allows me to forgive and the relationship to heal. I now have two wonderful mentors and am close with two incredible professors who are there for me through anything. I’ve learned to be vulnerable, open, trusting, and dependent. I’ve learned to be assertive in pursuing these relationships. I pushed for enriching opportunities outside the classroom. I’ve had a few leadership roles in the lab. By the time this semester is over, I will have presented my work five times–three times on campus (talks & posters) and twice off campus (posters). Talk about opportunities! Additionally, I was privileged to be selected to participate in a pilot experiential learning program. That has helped me take my research experience even further! I even have an independent study lined up for this summer with one of the founders of the field of neurotheology. When did I become that bold?

And then we have the bucket list items I’ve been crossing off this year:

  • Jumping in the Breeches (in February, in the snow)
  • Walking through the science building, laughing maniacally while wearing a lab coat
  • Having my artwork on display
  • Relay For Life
  • Special Olympics
  • Winning a gift card from a random drawing 🙂
  • Dancing in chapel

I nearly graduated a year early because I was that discontent with my first two years. I am incredibly thankful that my dad compelled me to use the full four years. Just look at what I would have missed out on this year!

I look back at my expectations upon entering college and compare to where I am now, and I stand amazed! I was not prepared for the amount of growth God would work in an open and willing heart. I thought that maybe, if I was lucky, I could do research, but I certainly didn’t think I would be eager to present it. I anticipated caring professors, but I did not expect lifelong friends and mentors. I was excited to resume dancing, but I was not prepared for leadership roles, chapel performances, or teaching. Studying abroad was something my dad always pushed, but never did I ever expect to spend four months living in Lithuania, when most people have no idea where the country is; in fact, that was one of the first locations I rejected. I thought it was nice that Messiah offered service trips, but I did not consider myself a qualified leader of my peers…and now I have led THREE trips! I did not expect to become a writer and hear affirmation of being a gifted communicator and be asked to share my testimony with my church.

The list goes on.

So here’s what I’ll do. For the next few weeks, I am going to publish a series of posts about my life in college–lessons, challenges, and growth. It’ll help me as I prepare to leave my home of the last four years, and it’ll provide you with some insight into my journey towards adulthood.

I hope you’ll embark with me!