2020: My Year of Focus

Each year, the last few days of December can feel overwhelming and startling. They almost serve as a period of solace, in between Christmas and New Years, like a designated time for reflection and realization. What happened within this past year? Am I happy with myself? What would I change? What am I proud of? 

I had done some self-reflection as 2019 began to fade. Overall, my year had been exceptional. I completed my first year at my dream school, I reached several fitness goals, I vacationed in Greece, I landed my first internship, I visited the White House (and almost fainted), and of course I made countless memories and shared millions of laughs with my family and friends. I was filled with many emotions- gratitude, cheer and love- as I thought about what I had experienced in 2019. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing in my day-to-day life. Even after making my list of  new years’ resolutions, I was unsure what it could be. 

I was in my happiest state, surrounded by my family, my dog, my Ugg robe and my fireplace, when what felt like destiny flashed across my TV screen on a cold December night. My mom, a mother of three teenage daughters, is always on the lookout for inspiration. I awake every morning with at least three Pinterest image quotes waiting for me when my alarm sounds. This particular night, my mom gathered my family in our living room to watch “Becoming Warren Buffett,” the 2017 HBO documentary featuring the world’s most successful investor. Right now I would just like to say, this entire documentary is fantastic and is well worth a watch. However, there was one scene in particular that stood out to me and ultimately changed my perception. The scene showed Warren Buffett sitting comfortably next to his longtime friend Bill Gates (and I thought my best friend and I were unstoppable). The interviewer hands both Buffett and Gates a slip of paper and a marker. The interviewer tells them to write down one word that embodies the key to their success. Without hesitation, they both hastily scribbled down a word that has made billions. “Focus” was written on both slips. 

Hours after the documentary had ended, I still couldn’t stop thinking about that one word. The more I thought, the more it made sense. A focused mind is an unstoppable mind. As my mom washed the dishes after dinner, I of course watched Scandal on my kitchen TV, remaining captivated by the life of my fictional idol and girl crush Olivia Pope. Since my freshman year of high school, I wanted to be her. My senior year of high school, I instinctively wrote “to be Olivia Pope” next to my ten year goal in the yearbook. Over winter break during my sophomore year of college, I firmly decided that 2020 would be the year that I start becoming her. I knew what I had to do. “My mantra for 2020 is ‘focus’” I declared to my mom. Her face immediately beamed with pride and warmth. 

I knew if I was going to stick to this and ultimately start building my dream career, I was going to have to start small. I started to read more, research topics I didn’t fully understand, and I made a separate Twitter account strictly for political news and learning. Thankfully, I had already taken care of the biggest part of my plan. This past fall I was accepted into the Washington Program at Penn State, allowing me to spend the whole summer working in Washington, D.C.. But I was ready to start thinking even further in advance, even bigger. My life felt too routine, and I needed to burst out of my comfort zone. I felt like I was on cloud 9 as I envisioned the amazing things I could accomplish with my new mindset. What could possibly go wrong? 

When it was time to go back to school, I was beyond excited to start my classes with a clean slate. However, along with the beginning of classes, sorority recruitment made its way into my already jam-packed schedule. I had decided to rush in the fall with a few of my close friends, and although I was dreading the long days and daily makeup application, I was truly excited to be a part of something new. To me, this was what I thought I needed to do. After all, all of my friends were in panhellenic sororities and they seem to love them. Why wouldn’t I? 

Day after day of recruitment, I found myself drifting further and further away from my goal to focus on importance. My mind was filled with dense thoughts, and I didn’t even notice it. After an exhausting twelve days of chatting, spraying perfume, and applying lip gloss promptly every 5-7 minutes, bid day was finally here. I found myself consumed by doubts and nerves. I ended up with two sororities left-- one that I thought I belonged in, and one that I did not feel a strong connection with. I spent all day thinking about the possibilities that could present themselves that evening. At 5pm, I held the sealed envelope in my hand that would play a bigger part in my “focus” mentality more than I ever would have imagined. “Open your bids!” yelled my group leader. 

The Bryce Jordan Center echoed with cheers and joy. But I felt like my heart had sunk into my stomach. Like many other girls in the BJC that day, I had just spent 12 days with barely any sleep, food, or sanity to open my bid to what I saw as a disappointment. I felt shocked, alone, and most definitely confused. In the moment, as ridiculous as it sounds now, this felt like the end of the world to me. I had forgotten all about what I had previously accomplished, everyone that loves me, the extraordinary qualities I possess, and overall what makes me, me. I walked home thinking about everything that could have gone wrong. 

I quickly texted my mom from my bed and within the minute my phone was ringing. I could barely speak, unsure of what to say. In my typical fashion, I came down much harder on myself than anyone else would have. How could this be a part of my plan? How am I supposed to accomplish my staggering set of goals when I can’t even get into my preferred sorority? 

Without fail, my mom did what all moms have the unique power of doing. She fixed me by just being herself. “These people don’t determine your destiny, Lizzie” she said. “You can still be Olivia Pope.” As she said this, a text came in from my dad. “You inspire me, young lady” it said. And even though my Grandmom had no idea that I was even rushing, fate must have compelled her to text me and tell me that she started a new painting and that she missed me. I didn’t need anything else to help me out of my devastating trance. Just because I hit a bump in the road didn’t mean I was never getting to the destination-- I was just taking a different route. I’m writing this article on a Tuesday, the day after bid day, and I can already tell you that I think I like this route a lot better. 

After a long needed pep talk from my mom I hung up the phone and was immediately ready to, once again, focus. Step one was to determine what I wanted. Recruitment left little time for anything besides class or rush, so I was desperate to get back in shape. I decided to join Penn State’s club cross country, so I filled out the form and emailed the president who was more than happy to welcome me and fill me in. Next, I wanted to get more involved in my major. I remembered a student who had come into my class this past week to talk about Penn State CommRadio, so I also emailed him about getting involved. Earlier tonight I went to the first training session and I could not be more thrilled to get started. 

I guess I wrote this article for a number of reasons. I lowkey needed to rant, I also had a lot on my mind, but I mainly wanted to use this article to remind myself that a change of plans does not equal cancellation. I never would have expected recruitment to turn out the way it did for me, but it ultimately led me to join new things I know will better myself, better my future, and of course reinforce my 2020 mantra of “focus.” The outcome of my recruitment process unveiled the amazing support system I have between my family and friends, and it also proved that fate is underway at all times. 

 

So, I crafted a five-step guide to embody my mantra of “focus” for 2020. It’s crazy to me that just one month into a new year has already taught me so much. 

  1. Confidence 

Without a doubt, my confidence was hurting after recruitment. But I am still a firm believer that confidence is essential to any ambition. One of my favorite YouTubers (Sarah’s Day) always says “act confident and no one will question you.” Confidence is at the root of these steps. To build it, I recommend taking time to focus on you, and only you. Eat clean, read books, go to the gym, study hard, count your blessings, and make others feel special. You will soon realize that by working on yourself, you begin to see yourself in a much more positive, worthy light. 

  1. Surround yourself with others that inspire you

This was another part of the Warren Buffett documentary. He stressed the importance of challenging yourself through the works of others. Who can mentally challenge Warren Buffett, I do not know, but I’m sure he knows them well. I’m of course a Leo, meaning can’t help but choose my friends wisely. I am not friends with people who are not good for me. If you don’t happen to be a Leo, take a step back and ask yourself if your friends challenge you on a daily basis. Ask yourself if they inspire you to be a better person. Ask if they make you feel important when you’re just being you. 

  1. Put yourself first

I already touched on this but I need to reiterate. Don’t let anyone hold you back from what you really want to do. Be brave for five minutes when making a decision you think others might judge. If it is going to benefit you in the long run, do it for yourself. Focus on where you’re going, rather than who’s not coming. 

  1. Don’t compare

You’re not racing anyone. Life is about going your own pace in your own lane. The only person you need to compete with is your past self. Simply strive to be better than you were yesterday. 

  1. Be afraid and do it anyway

This is another saying I love. The matter of fact is, the best things have happened to me when I've stepped out of my comfort zone. 

 

I am by no means a life coach but I think that’s a big reason why I wrote this. I’m just a regular college student who went through a hard time just like everyone else has. I’m ready to continue with my intent of building my dream career this year. After all, Justin Bieber is coming out with a new album this year so it’s already guaranteed to be a wholesome year. I can confidently say that after writing this article, I feel more focused than ever.