People often say that university is a time of growth. Sure, you might be learning about cell biology or Shakespearean literature, but you’re also learning about how to be an adult in the world. So why not practice some self-reflection? I’m not going to pretend like I have it all figured out, but I’ve picked up a few things in my 21 years that I think are worth sharing.
Do you actively listen to and check in on those around you?
It’s so easy to fall into your own routine and forget about the people around you. I’m guilty of this all the time. The people we surround ourselves with can make us better people, but only when we choose to stay involved in their lives, too.
I’m not saying you need to remember the birthdays of everyone you’ve ever met or give every ounce of your attention to every conversation you have. Just check in with your loved ones and make sure you really listen to them. It won’t just better your relationships, it will also better yourself.
Are you aware of your words and how they impact you and those around you?
I talk a lot (have you read my articles?), and that’s why I think it’s important to consider the effect of our words. You don’t need to be a perfect, robot-esque person at all times—heavens knows I’m not—but try your best to pause before you say or do something that has the potential to make waves.
Before you speak, check yourself. If you know you’re about to say something controversial, do you have a good reason for it? Does it fit with the kind of person you want to be? You don’t always need to limit yourself based on other people’s feelings and opinions, but it’s better to consider the consequences of your actions before you have to face them.
Are you able to set boundaries with yourself and others?
I’m sure you’ve heard lots of talk about setting boundaries by now, but they really are important! Boundaries are necessary to achieve a sense of safety and security. If we’re always living in fight-or-flight mode (often the result of not setting proper boundaries) we can’t operate from a place of confidence.
Setting boundaries can feel scary, but it shouldn’t be. All that's really happening is a transaction that says, I respect you and trust you enough to ask that you respect me as well. Boundaries don’t need to be monumental declarations. They can be as simple as telling your friends that you need a night off from going out.
Do you support yourself?
Since starting university, I'e spent a lot of my time alone (be it in classes, at home, at the pool, or at work). These are the things that monopolize my time right now, and they'll continue to be for the foreseeable future. You might be the same. Since we’re spending so much time with ourselves, we need to make sure we can rely on ourselves!
Having an external support system that you can turn to is huge, but those folks might not always be available. You are the only person who you’ll spend your entire life with, so it’s up to you to be your biggest cheerleader. You should be the person you turn to first to break down how you’re feeling—and to reassure yourself that whatever you feel is OK.
Do you acknowledge your mistakes and ask yourself how you can grow from them?
We all mess up sometimes. If we were perfect, there would be none of the exploration, learning, or growth that makes life beautiful. But we can only achieve these things when we allow our mistakes to improve us. Mistakes aren’t the end of the road, they’re a rest stop where we can reflect and read the driving manual for a quick refresher! At the end of the day what matters is realizing you made a mistake, apologizing for it, and growing from it. If you hurt someone else, you can’t guarantee they’ll forgive you, but you can humble yourself and learn from it.
I’m not trying to sound like a shoddy self-help salesman. I just know how awful it feels to be in your twenties and make mistakes constantly. But hey, isn’t it better to make them now? Think about all the times ahead of you where you won’t ever mess up again! (I wish.)