The View from Halfway Up

With the school year coming to a close, I have allowed myself to momentarily indulge in a little sentimentality. Recently (and with a bit of shock, I might add), I realized that I’m just about 50 percent of the way through my undergraduate degree at Queen’s. I know, I know -- it’s about as celebratory as a half-birthday and I’m sure all the soon-to-be grads reading this are probably laughing at the naive second-year attempting to be wise, but I can’t help but reflect on my past two years here at Queen’s and ruminate on what’s to come.

To put it lightly, university has taught me a lot. I suppose I should qualify that by saying that those teachings have not necessarily been academic, nor easy in any sense of the word. Nevertheless, I have grown up and shed more layers of myself than I can fathom.

As I imagine many of us did, I came into Queen’s with sky-high expectations for my university experience. I imagined making a thousand lifelong friends right off the bat, crazy parties every weekend, a residence experience to trump all others. I imagined being the most motivated I’ve ever been, excelling in every class and extracurricular I had on my plate. I imagined gracefully and effortlessly maturing into a young woman of whom I could be proud. I imagined second year being even better than the first, as I gradually became more and more attached to my school and proud to call Queen’s my home.

I have discovered it’s not quite that black-and-white.

I think if I have learned anything so far, it is to allow experiences to create themselves, not to fight the inevitable evolution of our time at university. The past few years, I was so set on what I felt “should” be my experience, I couldn’t avoid the panicked sense of devastation that seized me when things didn’t play out exactly how I envisioned. Here’s the key I was missing all along: though everything may not play out accordingly, sometimes when we just allow things to be, the people and events that can come into our lives bring an unexpected beauty we could never predict.

I have discovered that “should” is an unproductive word. Buying into the vague, imprecise notion of “should” can come along with a vicious spiral of self-doubt and questioning of what we believe is right. University has taught me that “right” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people: it’s not a race, or a competition, as much as it may appear so. It’s incredibly easy to feel caught in the silent, toxic rivalry of managing, of pretending to be okay just to appear as though we’re matching the pace of everyone else. We give merit to those who seem to have it all together, forgetting that what is best for them is not necessarily best for us as individuals.

It may sound obvious, but I have discovered that sometimes you can only do the best you can do in that moment, and that’s okay. What is our best in a certain time of our lives may not stay static -- in fact, it’s highly unlikely to, and sometimes the times when we feel least deserving of self-pride is when we need to appreciate ourselves most. Take pride in knowing that each day you have taken a step forward, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.

Though I still have a ways to go, the drop beneath my feet is steep and the view expansive. I hope that wherever you are in your Queen’s journey, you can stop for a moment to take a look at the ground below you and witness how far you’ve come. Most importantly, look out at the panorama that surrounds you now. Though there is beauty in the nostalgia of the past, and excitement in the anticipation of the future, the now is what builds your journey. Don’t forget that.