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A Love Letter to Last Year: Lessons I Learned In 2023

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

The year 2023 stands out as the most transformative period of my life in many ways. I graduated high school, secured a spot in my dream program, and moved across the country to begin university. Now, a year later, I find myself back where it all began—in my childhood bedroom.

As an out-of-province student, returning home after months away felt surreal. Reuniting with friends and family I hadn’t seen since August stirred many unexpected emotions. These past few days have felt like a movie, leaving me feeling detached from my own reality. While I’ve lost the ability to discuss anything that doesn’t revolve around university, I also feel an intense need to reconnect with my friends on an emotional level. Simultaneously, a strange sense of disconnection prevails, as if time stood still in my hometown, even though I had changed so astronomically. I’ve felt this pressure to reconcile the daughter and friend I’ve always been with the person I’ve become over the last four months. On one hand, it’s gratifying to see that growth, but on the other, it’s scary, foreign, and unfamiliar. 

group of girls having a picnic on the beach
Lauren Zweerink

As the year comes to an end, I have been reflecting on what went right and wrong. This is one of the first years where I genuinely feel proud of my accomplishments. I’ve developed my own values, and I am proud to see them embedded within myself more and more. 

Entering university, exposed me to a culture where burnout is worn as a badge of honour. As an overachiever myself, the pressure to be constantly accomplishing has led to a struggle with equating rest to failure. That being said, I’m glad to have found myself resenting this “grindset” more than succumbing to it. Learning from past mistakes feels triumphant, by breaking free of being chronically self-aware of my faults yet unable to change my habits in any truly productive way. 

This year, my perception of success shifted, perhaps subconsciously. I now value resilience over achievement and steady progress over momentary recognition. The cliché saying that everything you need is already within rings true, highlighting that the more I search for fulfillment and validation externally, the less I feel joy, confidence, and drive within.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my growth as a person and the way that I internalize and give love — something which is unique to every relationship, as they all have a different dynamic. In the past, I gave my all when I truly loved someone, but I’ve come to realize that this isn’t genuine love. The way someone would text me or talk to me that day would determine how my day went and how I felt about myself because I truly believed that their perception of me was who I was. Spending more time alone revealed that the way others perceive me does not define my worth.

I’ve always been very emotional and perceptive, and while external opinions from others may still affect me, I have learned not to let it define me. Allowing someone who doesn’t truly know me to define how I feel about myself is exhausting, and limiting to the multifaceted nature of human emotion. This realization was really difficult to come to terms with since I genuinely believed that I was a part of really wonderful relationships, which, looking back on, I recognize were reliant on my complicity, and a tolerance for my love.Now I recognize that my open heart and trusting nature is something that deserves to be celebrated by those I choose to share it with.

Through spending time on my own and a lot of self-reflection, I’ve reached a point where I am no longer concerned with what people think about me. And even when I may care, I don’t let it define me, because I acknowledge that it’s not who I am. The way people think or respond to me when they do not truly know me is not a reflection of myself. 

I’ve also learned to stop letting people walk all over me. Because that’s another thing that I used to let people do all the time — I thought that it was normal and a way I was showing love. And yes, you may feel like a good person, but being a doormat is not self-respect. Of course, there are still days and times when I find myself falling back into old habits, probably driven by a fear of being misunderstood. However, when you stop worrying about being understood by others, and instead focus on loving and understanding yourself, that’s true freedom. It’s then that you can meet yourself with real love, compassion, and patience. 

Entering the new year, my hope is for everyone to begin meeting themselves where they are at, and extend a little more grace to one another.

Lauren Johnston

Queen's U '27

First year business student at Queen's University. Lover of coffee, window shopping, poetry, and good music.