8 Things I've Learned in 2018

8 Things I've Learned in 2018

For me, 2018 was a time of growth and opportunity. Take some time to reflect on some of the most important things you, too, have learned this year.

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1. Other people see more in you than you will ever see in yourself. I, and you too are far more capable than we believe.

I have found numerous opportunities that I never would have if it weren't for those around me. This semester, countless sorority sisters encouraged me to run for chapter president. After responding with "No. No way. Are you kidding me? Me? No. I can't do that." for so long, I began to see that all of these people saw something in me that I had never even scratched the surface of within myself. The point I'm making is this: your capabilities are worlds beyond what you can imagine. Pay attention to those around you who see amazing, special qualities in you that may lead you down a path you never thought you would travel. In turn, be that person to tell others attributes you see in them. They may never know without your guidance.

2. I would rather take the risk of telling someone exactly how I feel than them never knowing at all.

I haven't always been the best at telling people how I feel in certain situations. Whether I'm frustrated, angry, hurt, happy, or excited, I tend to keep to myself in order to play it safe. This year, I have challenged myself to be more transparent with those around me, no matter the circumstance. I look at life this way: bottom line, I would rather have someone know how I feel about a certain situation than continue to go through life without them knowing. Life is way too precious and short for that. In some instances, it's kind of fun/exciting. In the upcoming months, I challenge you to open up about something that you have been otherwise afraid to. It is much healthier to live openly than live hiding.

3. It takes both the tough times and the great times to discover who is truly going to be there for you, always, no matter what.

I've had times this year that many people in my life have really surprised me-- both in great and rather not-so-great ways. Some who I have thought would always be there have not been, and some who I never thought would be there are some of my strongest rocks. I think it takes both types of situations to find people who are going to cheer you on in your happiest moments and hug you in your worst. I am thankful for those who, no matter what, are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders all in one. Find those people and hang onto them tightly.

4. "The Office" is the best show in the history of all shows.

I had never watched The Office before this year (sinful, right?). But now that I have, there's nothing that can beat it. 'Nuff said.

5. It is perfectly OK to remove people from your life who don't better you, and it is even more OK to not feel bad about it.

Taking a break from a person for awhile can be beneficial to our overall well being. Instead, focusing our energy on healthier relationships and most importantly, on ourselves, can be extremely rewarding in a lot of ways. In my, probably rather unpopular opinion, it's ok to cut people out, or distance yourself, from people who are not constantly bettering you. I know it's not always that easy. Take time to reflect on the relationship with that person and if it's worth it, find ways to work it out. If it's not, it's OK to leave that person behind. Again, life is way too short.

6. Happiness doesn't choose you. You choose happiness.

It's easy to get hung up on the things that are upsetting to us. Life is always going to throw bullets our way that we don't particularly enjoy. I've had a few of those moments this year. "This sucks. I'm so unhappy. Why is this happening to me?" But the truth is, one thing lost does not even compare to the millions of things that still remain, and the billions more to gain. You are only going to be as happy as you decide to be. Wake up and choose happiness. Every day.

7. Do more, love harder, expect less.

I have found time and time again this year that when I expect less, I end up less disappointed. What I have begun to focus on, however, is small things that I can do for others that take the focus off of myself. Whether it's stopping by my sorority sister's rooms to ask how their day has been, texting a friend or family member I haven't spoken to in awhile, or calling my mom to tell her something that I love about her, I have found that doing these things is so much more fulfilling than expecting anything from others. One of the hardest things I have had to come to terms with is accepting to go through life without the expectation that everyone has the same heart as you.

8. I always want to be fearlessly, unapologetically and wonderfully myself.

It seems obvious, but as I look back, I spend the most time with those who allow me to be my most honest and true self. I sometimes find myself afraid of being too bold, too bubbly, too charismatic-- but I never want to apologize for who I am to anyone, and neither should you. There are always going to be both major and minor differences between you and the person sitting next to you. The best thing for us to all do is respect each other for our differences in interests, loves, personalities, passions and drives. Be bold. Be you. And don't apologize for a minute of it.

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What Chinese New Year Means to Me

Thoughts on past new years as the Year of the Rooster crows in.
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In my family (or rather...just my mother and I), Chinese New Year has always been an absolute must. When I was younger, at least a week before, my mother would meticulously clean the house until every single object was placed in the most organized way possible, and to usher in the new year with good luck, I had to set plates out with sweet, ripe oranges still fresh with stem and leaves and red shiny wrapped lai see tong that over the years had gotten stale in my mouth sucking on the sweet, caramel-like flavor for too long. I used to either get a fresh haircut or hairwash a few days before to cut off the luck of the old year and make room for the new year. Washing hair on new year's was prohibited, as it was like washing away all the good luck.

As the new year drew closer, we both would go to the Chinese markets in Chinatown that reeked of dead fish that had been sitting out on ice for too long or the raw bloody pungence of fresh pigs and chickens that butchers were hacking away at. My mother would fight her way with her shopping cart to get the prime roasted duck, most fresh chicken, and most savory char siu. That night she would spend the whole afternoon in the kitchen cooking ma-pou dou-fu, vegetable bee-hun, a brothy seaweed soup with fish balls, fish steamed in ginger and garlic cloves, stir fried snow pea leaves, and of course, rice. The rich aromas intoxicated me so much as a child, that at times I would sneak over to the kitchen, grab a bite, and quickly scurry away, telling myself that would be the last bite before dinner. When my mother was done, we feasted.

While we ate, she would recount her own experiences of Chinese New Year back in Medan. A bigger feast than what we had at the table? Pineapple, cheese, and cream cookies that Ama made by hand? TWO WEEKS OFF OF SCHOOL? A huge family dinner? I always stopped listening at this point and looked around at the table, which was very full and at the same time extremely empty. I would pick at my rice and look at all the food that was on the table wondering if we both could ever finish this all (spoiler: we always could). Each bite I put into my mouth would try and drown out the emptiness I felt in my heart.

The next morning, I would wake up groggily to my mother flashing red envelopes in my face.

"Gong xi fat choi!" " my mother greeted enthusiastically. "

"gongmmsifashii," I would respond.

"What?"

"Gongxifashii."

"You have to say it or no money for you." she teased, waving the envelopes in my face. "Don't you want money?"

(No I want to sleep).

"Gong xi fa choi," I mumbled as loud as I could.

"Now say, 'Xin Nian Kwai Le'."

"Mooooooom."

"Okay, okay, here." And I was handed my prize. I remember going to school with the red envelopes tucked away in my backpack. I went to a predominantly white Catholic school, so it was always a secret pleasure to know that I had gotten money on that day when my friends didn't. And it wasn't even my birthday.

As the years went by however, struggles increased, and my mother and I became more estranged, the meaning of the new year's eve dinner and even new year's itself diminished within me. Less food on the table. More silence during dinner except for the occasional, "Do you want more?". Chinese New Year became a day not for new anticipations of the blessings to come but for greedy anticipations for money. My mother always took back most of the money she gave me because she needed it, so I depended on our friends who celebrated Chinese New Year to give me the prized red envelopes. But even those started to lose their meaning. I remember getting jealous of my friends from Chinese school who celebrated the Lunar New Year, who flashed their shiny 100 dollar bills, who flashed pictures of huge feasts, who flashed pictures of families that weren't broken. Even on Chinese New Year's when I attempted to celebrate with a small new year's feast, I realized that no one in my white, all-girls Catholic school really cared about such a holiday, and it's hard to feel enthusiastic when no one is supporting you in what you want to celebrate in. What was the point of me celebrating the new year, if the eve of the new year was filled with scarcity, numbness, and nonchalance? The only thing to look forward to for me was the new year's dinner that my mom, her friend, and her friend's daughter would all eat at a restaurant because cooking was such a hassle. Hopefully then we would both have enough food to eat, my mom and her friend would "fight" over the bill and her friend would win in the end, and I could actually keep the money that I was given. And at least I could see my mother smile and laugh for a few hours. Now that I'm in college, celebrating Chinese New Year in a predominantly white school proves an even harder challenge. While I was surrounded by roots of my culture back home that my mom nourished me in, Chinese New Year is just a day here. Not a holiday. Just another ordinary, typical school day. Who has time to celebrate?

I guess Chinese New Year was redeemed for me by my boyfriend's accounts of all the Chinese New Years that he celebrated back in Malaysia, where Chinese New Year IS actually something to celebrate. As he told me of the lion dance competitions that would happen, the way his Ama spent the whole day cooking as she prepared a feast for at least 20 people, the the red envelopes that would come showering from every single relative, and the way every single store was decked out in red and blasting Chinese music on the loudspeakers, the stories that my mother had told me when I was younger seemed to come ALIVE. No matter how busy one aunt was, even if she lived in another country, everyone also had time to sit down and gather for a meal. I heard similar stories from my friends from China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, and with every story told I realized I didn't want to lose the tradition that my mom had kept me in for so long. I wanted to share my roots and celebrate with those who shared in my experiences, with those who valued such a holiday of feasting, of fortune, of family.

Through my experiences, I've realized Chinese New Year isn't about food. It isn't about red envelopes. It isn't even making personal resolutions that focus on self-improvement. The Lunar New Year celebrates community. It focuses on the gratitude that one feels for all the blessings that he or she has received during the past year, through all the turmoils and the struggles that one may share with others. And what better way to share in life than around a round table full of food and with the people who YOU consider family?

Cover Image Credit: SBS

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It's Always A Good Time To Better Yourself

New year, new you.

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We all like to play the New Year's game of creating resolutions most of us will most definitely not keep. We hear everyone going on and on about "new year, new me" and pretend like we want to engage as well. I failed to realize what it is about the new year that makes people want to change themselves. It's as if the digit changing at the end of the year is important to us changing ourselves.

You can make a change at any time of the year, so why now?

With this upcoming year, I feel like I have answered the qualms of the above statements. I have realized it is less about a new you, but more about a better you. The new year makes us feel fresh and gives us new energy. The digit changing, it gives us the motivation to make the changes to improve ourselves. While the last year has been so generous, I want to make the next year even better.

This is not a how-to guide on how to keep your resolutions, but more on how to make them. We tend to set unrealistic goals based off of ideas perpetuated by society rather than what truly makes us happy. We think by losing weight we will feel better about ourselves. By doing this we bypass the real goal altogether, feeling good about ourselves. This can apply in other circumstances. as well. If you're a writer, your goal could be to write more instead of writing better or writing something you care about. By deciding what truly matters to us, we can set goals that guide us to success instead of deterring it.

Even a simple task every day, like making the bed, can set the tone for the day as productive and neat.

Everyone is different and having the same three goals as every other person will not help you. Think about who you are and what you need to motivate you. Going to the gym may make you hate getting out of bed in the morning, but a small workout at home can be just as effective and more interesting for you.

Resolutions are what you make them out to be. You can choose to make them something meaningful.

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