A semester gone as quickly as it came. Allow me to take you along its momentous journey.

1. Take a moment to reflect

It has been a while since I seriously sat down and seriously thought about what has happened in my life recently. Over the last few months, there have been times of fireworks and times of gloom, and everything has rushed by so fast that I haven’t found the right moment to really think about it.

I have been aware for a while that I tend to ignore difficult and abstract things in my life by filling my free time with distractions. Whether it be mindlessly playing Tetris, fidgeting with a Rubik’s cube, or watching videos on YouTube, I constantly find a new way to drown out things I don’t want to think about, whether it be homework or problems with my relationships or daily life. Around two months ago, I attempted to remedy this bad habit by writing in a journal every night with the hope that it would force me to think about my day and what motivated me to do certain things. It was great at first, but I found myself writing more face-value recollections of events that passed instead of writing about my thoughts and emotions; when I tried to write more about the latter, I would end up writing too much, which made me unmotivated to continue journaling. After a few weeks, I started lagging behind schedule and eventually dropped it because I was “too busy.”

I feel like some of you might be the same. When was the last time you analyzed your current state: your current strengths and weaknesses, personal flaws, or future goals? How about just sitting down for 15 minutes at the end of the day to figure out what you did that day? While we’re preoccupied with what we think are pressing matters, we tend to distract ourselves from bigger underlying questions or issues that we might have, maybe ones that are more important or severe.

Modern technology has only made things worse. In the brief periods of free time I caught over the semester, I always spent it browsing mindlessly through Instagram, Reddit, or Twitter. It was a brainless activity I could distract myself with, so I wouldn’t have to think about the mountain of problems lying ahead. I would desperately scroll to find something even minutely interesting, hoping to distract myself from my problems. I could have devoted some time, any amount of time, to just sit and think. I could have put the phone down and just think about something, anything. That’s all I had to do. But in those moments, I couldn’t. Not even for five minutes. I’m not saying that we don’t deserve breaks sometimes. After an intense study session or work period, I think it is perfectly fine to just turn your brain off as your body recuperates. But even setting a little amount of time to reflect is vital to your self and environmental awareness.

It’s definitely not easy. I am filled with emotions that I do not understand and cannot convey, and trying to think through them is sometimes as difficult as preparing for an upcoming exam. I have tried to initiate a habit of personal reflections multiple times in the last few months but I couldn’t due to the stress that was piling up. After a while, I told myself I would wait until the school year was over so I could gather my thoughts and try again (which has led to what you are reading now). The less I reflect, the more my days become uniform and monotonous, turning into a sequence of rapid events that I can’t even remember.

Well, how do you begin the process of self-reflection? You can start small. Begin by recounting the important moments that passed today. If nothing happened today, then think about yesterday or the past week. Think about your behaviors, important events, or crucial conversations. Consider how you would like to improve, things that are holding you back, and what you hope to achieve. The answers to these questions might not be obvious, and it can take a long time before you’ve even figured yourself out. The sooner you start, the better. You don’t want a whole year to pass for you to realize that you aren’t at a place you want to be.

I often find writing your thoughts on paper or a computer really helps this process. By making your ideas physical, you can refer back to them in the future, to see what progress you have made. It also provides a sense of accountability, as you subconsciously know that this “something” knows who you are and what you want. Another good way is to take a long walk on a brisk evening. Listen to the voice of nature or calming music. For some reason, I don’t think listening to Eminem’s Rap God stimulates the brain too well. It will likely allow you to destress, which makes thinking through difficult things much easier.

2. Have an honest conversation with your friend

Until this semester, I haven’t been seriously confronted by a friend for a mistake I made. Likewise, I have never seriously confronted a friend about a mistake they made. I have always expected others to initiate while I remained in the background, away from any direct controversy. Even though keeping silent might spare you a few uncomfortable situations here and there, it’s only going to manifest in resentment and frustration later down the line.

Your friends are people that you should be honest with. If you have a problem with them, you should be vocal about it. Even though we all cherish our friends, they aren’t perfect, and neither are we. Everyone has the capacity to improve. If you don’t speak out against bad behavior, you’re only going to prolong a problem, and nobody ends up satisfied. If you don’t tell me that I’m a piece of sh*t, then why would I try to change?

Chances are, you might learn something new about your friend. You might not have understood them correctly, or maybe you failed to see their perspective. Don’t be so quick to assume that your diagnosis was valid. Being able to engage in productive criticism can only strengthen your relationships, as long as both parties are willing to listen. Dream of a friendship where both of you can initiate difficult conversations without fear. You will learn to give and take criticism, and you will become untouchable.

I still need to work on this. I am nowhere near where I would like to ideally be, but I must practice what I preach. I know I am faint of heart, constantly overthinking about how others perceive me and fearing I will disappoint my friends. I vouch to be honest, and I will reap the consequences of my behavior.

If you have a problem with a friend, and you’ve been trying to tell them for a long time now, rip the band-aid off.

3. Take a step back, look at the bigger picture

I wanted to start my year with a bang. Too long during quarantine spent lounging around, wasting time, and waking up at two in the afternoon. This year was going to be different. After a mild start during the first semester, I wanted to work hard and achieve a lot during the second. I dedicated myself to demanding clubs and filled most of my free time with “work.” I began to stress myself out, and I was not suited to handle the massive workload.

There were moments when I considered whether I wanted to continue with the clubs. I was sacrificing time to do other things that I wanted to do: study machine learning, write blogs, read books, etc. I considered their career benefits and often convinced myself that I was doing the right thing. But subconsciously, I felt like I was giving up other important things.

Regardless, I don’t have any regrets. I was also able to meet friends and learn a lot about things completely unrelated to my major. I was able to figure out what I like and don’t like, which I believe to be a crucial part of the college experience. I wouldn’t go back and change anything, because chances are, they shaped me into the person I am today. But there is definitely a moral of the story.

Before you do anything, you should always ask yourself, “what do I want and what will I achieve by doing this?” You should be honest with yourself. Do things that you find meaningful and do it because you want to. Don’t volunteer for a children’s hospital because think it will make you virtuous to your friends. Volunteer there if you actually like working with children and want to make a difference.