A Back to School Letter to Myself

How is it your senior year of college already? It feels like just yesterday you were graduating high school. Time flies when you’re working your butt off, I guess (or having fun, when your schedule permits). You still have a lot to learn, young grasshopper, but last year provided some crucial revelations about college, friendship, and the quest for a sustainable work/life balance. I have a proper laundry list of memories, experiences and life lessons that I urge you to reflect on, and then take what you’ve learned and let it help you grow so that this year can be your best one yet.

  1. 1. Make time for yourself

    It’s well past time for you to finally stop neglecting the fact that you’re an introvert. Last year, and also every year before that, you rarely, if ever, declined an invite to a social event or gathering. But, at what cost? You haven’t felt like yourself in years, and it’s because you’ve been trying to be something that you’re not. You know yourself, Noelle, and you know that in order to recharge and truly get some rest, you need to be on your couch with a mug of something warm, alone in your quiet house with your cats. Going out to socialize and party wears you out more. And no, sitting on your couch doing homework and writing articles does not count as relaxation. When you live your life at full speed like that, continually working hard or playing hard and having no balance, no chill time in between, it affects your mental and physical health. That’s not a sustainable way to live, and you know it. So, what I want for you this year is to listen to the way you feel, and don’t hesitate to decline an invite and stay home if it’s what you feel like you need. I promise you that your social life will not implode and your friends will still love you even if you sometimes skip out on plans. Respect yourself, invest in yourself, and care for yourself this year - it’ll be worth it.

  2. 2.  Address toxic relationships before it’s too late

    I know you like to shrug it off and blame it on your moon being in Scorpio. But let’s face the facts, you have a habit of bottling up resentments towards others and then acting shocked when they inevitably explode in an ugly way. This year, address tensions calmly and constructively so that the bridge in question can be salvaged, and possibly even strengthened, rather than incinerated. That being said, friendships and relationships that are off to a good start can sometimes sour over time and become toxic, and it’s not always salvageable. But if you do need to cut someone out of your life, at least you can say you tried to repair it beforehand with open, honest communication. Don’t procrastinate these conversations — I know they’re challenging, but it’ll still be easier than sweeping up the ashes from that burned bridge. Let your friends, family members, coworkers or whomever know when they’re stressing you out, bringing you down or leaving you feeling drained.

  3. 3. Don’t prioritize your resume or transcript over your physical and mental health

    Remember when you got a concussion last year, and the doctor told you to take a break from regular activities, such as going to work, reading and looking at screens? And remember when you disregarded the doctor’s orders by still going to work, reading and working on your computer until you eventually had a transient ischemic attack, a pretty serious neurological event? Obviously It’s my hope for you that you never get another concussion again, especially not this year. But as you know by now, sh*t happens. More often than not, things occur in life that you didn’t expect or plan for, so you have to compromise with yourself and lower the bar if you set it high before the mitigating circumstances arose. 

    This year, I just want you to remember what’s most important in life: your health. You’re extremely lucky that your neurological issues didn’t escalate any more than they did when you ignored professional medical advice to maintain your GPA and paycheck. Imagine if you had had a full-blown stroke - is a degree really worth losing some motor skills and brain function? This year, if you run into struggles with your physical or mental health, promise me that getting healthy again will be your top priority, no matter what the cost. You can always go back to school and finish your degree, but you can’t undo permanent damage to your body or mind.

  4. 4. I know it’s a cliché, but don’t sweat the small stuff!

    Being a perfectionist can have its perks, but it can also have its perilous downfalls. In a perfect world, setting the bar high for yourself is great because when you reach it, you feel more accomplished than ever. But this world isn’t perfect, and neither are you. Be realistic in your goals and expectations for your academic and professional endeavors, because then you won’t have a mental breakdown and convince yourself you’re a complete failure when you occasionally fall short. Remember last year, when you got your first B at VCU and acted like it was the end of the world? Isn’t that embarrassing to think of now, since you’ve reached multiple milestones in your budding journalism career since then? Celebrate victories, big or small, but when you don't quite meet the mark, I can assure you it will not be the end of the world. Take a step back, take a deep breath and just let your mistakes and short-comings roll off your back. You’ll thank me later.