I LOVE lists. I love writing out to-do lists, future goals, bucket lists, grocery lists etc. The list goes on. Okay, I’ll see myself out for that one.
But no, really. It’s one of my strangest habits. On busier days, I find myself writing out the same unfinished list several times. I don’t know what level of procrastination that falls under … but over time, I’ve managed to convince myself that it keeps me sane. It actually excites me. I know. Even my therapist laughed at that one.
However, as we know, the excitement of the honeymoon phase soon fades and then everything seems to plateau. Or sometimes, it goes uphill or downhill. And, in my case, I experienced the downhill, limiting side of my blueprint – list phase.
A few days ago, I found an old goals list I made in the summer for this semester. According to the list, I’d only achieved one or two things out of the nine. I instantly felt like shit. I literally just sat in bed and cried. I felt like I had completely wasted this semester, done absolutely nothing to help myself move forward in my goals and yes, I continued to dive straight into self-pity. In that moment, I had completely disregarded everything I had achieved over the semester and completely focused on that one list I made three months ago. Three months ago.
It seems easy now to reflect how daft it is to cry over something so small when you’re no longer in an emotional state of mind but in that little moment, that unachieved list meant everything.
Now, I’ll be honest. This semester hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been my hardest semester at college. Prior to this semester, I spent the summer thinking about transferring to the business school, excited for my classes, the new clubs I was going to join and how i was going to impact the ones I’d already been in. I made my ‘perfect’ to do list and once school started, I was ready to be the new Kim Possible or something. I was ready and motivated.
And then, life hits you (perhaps, your list even harder) and you go back to square one.
College began. I was barely adjusting to my living space. I began to experience the worst case of imposter syndrome every time I would step inside the business school. I nearly failed my first accounting exam (p.s thank you 19 point curve for later saving my dignity). I hated statistics. I sat mindlessly in that class, allowing absolutely nothing to process. And, yes I did awful on that first exam too. I was absolutely sure I didn’t want to transfer to the business school. I was happy and comfortable in the College of Communications, it felt easy. I began my first college brand ambassadorship and felt like an instant fool with my 650 followers when I was with my team of girls who could easily be micro-influencers. I scrutinised my own creativity and questioned why RTR even chose me to represent them. Worst of all, I began neglecting my health. I began stress-eating with dominos at 1am as my friends watched silently. I’d lack motivation to go anywhere. I wanted to lie in bed everyday for hours. I fell back on my promises of what I promised to help my club with. And finally, the cherry on the top – I began to place an unusual amount of stress on friendships, desperately trying to distract myself from all the external stress cues.
My self esteem had reached a new level of low. I felt dumb due to low test scores. I felt ugly due to the weight gain and most of all, I constantly felt out of place with everything I did. I began to self-loathe. Experiencing highs and lows with yourself was normal – but dealing with it in a ‘new’ environment suddenly made it a lot harder. I was more homesick than usual – a feeling I had almost never experienced my first year away from home. Wasn’t the second year supposed to be easier?
After speaking to three academic advisors, buying a pack of tarot cards (Yes, I was that desperate.), getting a therapist and talking to friends – nothing seemed to help. Nothing was helping because I wasn’t ready to help myself. You can talk to a lot of people and engage in a lot of retail therapy – but at the end of the day when people get busy and when its you lying in bed sobbing – it’s only you who can physically get yourself out of that door.
I was soon diagnosed with depression and anxiety – and that’s when everything changed. The diagnosis actually made me happier? An unexpected reaction but for the first time in months, something made sense. My mind felt a new level of clarity. I felt the same level of motivation I had once felt prior to school starting.
I studied harder for the next few exams. The test scores increased. The -once upon a time- impulsive retail therapy gave me a reason to smile at the mirror more. I spent more time with old and new friends. Relationships improved. I joined workout classes. I even tried out yoga (and yes, I’m a fan). I gained better control over my anxiety. I bought new books to read. I began to write in my journal again. I tried to find inspiration in anything and everything. I, now, know RTR chose me because I was always capable and I belonged. I no longer feel that imposter syndrome I once felt with school. Unfamiliar grounds became a safe haven.
There’s been a tremendous level of personal growth I’ve experienced in the past three months. Growth levels that may not be easily demonstrable but have been thoroughly experienced to new degrees of highs and lows. Most importantly, I learnt a whole lot about myself. I realised how easily I used to give up, how quickly I’d get intimidated by new patterns of change – and I despised it. I had questioned my transfer a million times. I wallowed in confusion. All of this made me crave defiance against my indecisiveness and my lack of tenacity at the time. I truly believe the universe has its way of pushing you until you reach your ‘destined’ limit. I could have easily dropped those classes, stayed in the college of communications, continued to ignore my health and spiral out of control – but there was something great coming out at the other end. I could feel it. A satisfying feeling. Perhaps, this was my big ‘checkbox’ after all. My checkbox of growth.
I mention this growth because it didn’t occur over night. The feeling of incompetency didn’t leave my mind in a day or a week. The frustration of never being good enough, the sadness and anxiety had stained my mentality for 3 months. 3 months. The same 3 months that my to-do list remained unachieved.
So, in that small moment of just staring at an unachieved list, I ignored how much I had grown. I ignored how many things I achieved that weren’t on that 3 month old list. For a minute, I’d given importance to a limiting list that didn’t foreshadow the discomfort, the discontent but also, the gaiety that arrived with every tiny personal triumph that I got to celebrate.
And, that pretty much sums up my love-hate relationship with lists. We all know – and can understand – how organised and empowered a list can make us feel. It brings us a certain degree of mental satisfaction that assures us we got it under control. And, of course, the act of checking things off that leaves you feeling even more elated. It’s rewarding and fulfilling.
But, there’s also that restraint of limiting yourself to just those checkboxes. Yes, you can add and subtract things, but life never raised us in a blue-print manner. Write a list when you need to, but do not bind yourself to a limited list. It’s easy to feel futile when you stare at an unaccomplished list and forget everything that’s happened around you since you wrote it – I know, because I did. So, let some lists go. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are where you’re meant to be – and I know a lot of us forget that. The universe has its way of moving you along with things that are meant for you – so don’t get tied up with the stress of an incomplete goal list.
So, trust the process and be kind to yourself. You are exactly where you’re meant to be, and you will reach where you want to go.