I decided to post a draft of the first chapter of a book I have been working on to help college students succeed. I’m posting this to inspire my current students and any students who may be struggling with the sudden change to online classes because of Covid-19 and social distancing practices.
If you have already finished college or achieved a different life goal, maybe this post will be a reminder of what inspired you to not give up on a dream.
Chapter One: Don’t Give Up
“Resilience is a muscle. Flex it enough and it will take less effort to get over emotional punches each time.” – Alecia Moore (Pink)
If there is one piece of advice that I can give to college students, it is to feel deep gratitude for your life and to not care too much about failure. Don’t let a momentary failure define you because anyone who has reached a major goal will tell you stories about paying their dues, receiving rejections, being mocked for their ideas, and encountering jealousy, or even betrayal from those closest to them. Many inspiring people have faced injustice, setbacks, and deep moments of despair, but they found the inner strength to persevere.
One of my favorite quotes about resilience comes from Nelson Mandela.
Setbacks and failures are often part of the process of eventual success. No matter what happens, access your strength, even if you have to sit on the floor and cry or go outside and scream. Don’t turn back, and don’t quit. Keep moving in the direction of your dreams.
As Gary John Bishop puts it, “You change your life by doing, not by thinking about doing.”
I’ve been humbled more times that I can count, and I know pain intimately—deep physical, emotional, and psychological pain. I write openly about these struggles in my memoir Angels in the OR: What Dying Taught Me About Healing, Survival and Transformation. However, I also know that if I can transcend pain and face tough odds, then you can as well.
Carl Jung, founder of analytic psychology, tells us that “We are not what happened to us, we are what we wish to become.”
There is always a choice to become the best version of yourself!
As I was writing this book to support and motivate college students, our beautiful community college switched all face to face classes to online classes in one week because of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The majority of my students are finishing their classes, despite their dismay at this sudden change. Many students are adjusting to online classes with ease, but some are struggling with procrastination, motivation, or even depression and anxiety. Luckily, counselors are providing sessions online, and tutoring services have worked diligently to connect with students virtually.
I am grateful for video conferencing capabilities, and it is joy to see my student’s faces these past weeks. I have been reminding them that now, more than ever, resilience and creativity are crucial skills for navigating challenging times.
Community is also important. Community helps us prosper and feel supported, even if this community is an online community. Several of my students have told me that they are grateful that they have classes to focus on because their friends who aren’t in college and are unemployed are struggling. For the most part, my students are able to stay on track with their goals, and they are witnessing firsthand which careers are more flexible and necessary during shifting times in society.
Though online classes may not have been my student’s first choice, they are grateful to stay on track with their degree plans, and I am proud of their resilience. They are not giving up on their dreams, but they are willing to adjust and look for inspiration no matter how the journey unfolds.
My overall message to students is a simple one—don’t give up for any reason.
Don’t give up on college if you fail a couple of classes. Retake them. Don’t give up if you face a physical illness or face the grief of losing a loved one. Your loved ones would want you to succeed.
Don’t give up if you go through a difficult break-up. Even if the love of your life (who you believed was the answer to your prayers) destroys your relationship and treats you horribly, know that someday you will be wiser and see interpersonal cruelty as immaturity. In the future, you will know yourself as kind and honorable. Committing to your growth as an individual will ensure that you resonate with healthier people.
You can make yourself the CEO of your own life and hire and fire people as you deem necessary.
Don’t give up on college because of a mental health issue. Find a free support group if you don’t have health insurance. Know that there are others who have walked through similar situations and they can help you. Most colleges offer free counseling sessions. Even during a pandemic, our counselors are taking appointments with students in video chats and in phone calls.
Don’t give up because you have lived through childhood abuse. Learn to retrain your brain and embrace all that you can learn about creating a better life than you had as a child. This takes many years of therapy and dedicated work, but it is worth it. Your parents want this for you even if they are unable to articulate it.
You might change and grow beyond your parent’s world views, and this might change your relationship with your family members. Do it anyway. Learn to communicate differently, learn to parent yourself, and search out mentors who can help you create the life you want for yourself.
Be an explorer in the realm of what is new.
Understand the basic needs of the human spirit and get plenty of relaxation, time in nature, and support. Learn to nourish yourselves. Invest in your health in ways that are simple and affordable. Exercise, play, take daily walks, meditate for at least 10 minutes a day, drink plenty of water, and eat as many whole fruits and vegetables as possible.
Think about the ancient ways of being healthy, and don’t forget these truths.
When faced with a complicated problem, look for simple, common sense solutions and begin there. Even if you have compounding, stressful life issues, know that greater healing is always possible, and education often points in the direction of healing and greater success.
Realize that many of us are somewhat addicted to technology and this has a negative effect on our emotional and intellectual capabilities. Technology can be a force of great creativity and connection, but it can also be a waste of precious time and hamper our ability to emotionally connect with those closest to us.
In order to achieve goals, you will have to limit the time you spend on entertainment and socialization online. Consider reading the book Alone Together by MIT professor Sherry Turkle who talks about how technology has changed the landscape of families, education, and communities. Hopefully, this pandemic will help us realize as a culture how little we need, how much we have, and the deep value of human connection.
If you are not overwhelmed by personal tragedy, but you are concerned by tragedy in society, know that education is a great place to learn the skills that can help you restore greater peace, understanding, and unity in society. Focus on a career that works toward finding solutions to problems in society.
You become an inspiring leader when you focus on the solution, not the problem.
Don’t give up because of injustice. Education has traditionally been a place where new ideas are formed about how to make society safer and more equitable for everyone. Consider the work of Bryan Stevenson and read his book Just Mercy. His book has also been released as a movie. Stevenson is considered one of the most inspiring and influential people working for greater legal justice and mercy in the United States.
While in college, part of your growth is to learn how to make rational decisions for your future. Seek out those who can point out a path that you can’t see in the moment. Reach out to your professors, academic advisers and others who are there to help you.
Volunteer to help others because this will help you get ‘out of your head’ and ‘into action’ which generally will make you feel better. Service learning and volunteering not only looks great on your resume, but service also teaches you how to understand the journey of others. Even in a time of a pandemic and social isolating, I am encouraging my students to form friendships and support one another in the online environment.
Empathy is an important life skill that can be strengthened when you take the time to see what life looks and feels like from the perspective of another person.
Leslie Jamison, author of a collection of essays titled The Empathy Exams writes that “Empathy suggests you enter another person’s pain as you’d enter another country, through immigration and customs, border-crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?”
When you help another student succeed by taking the time to share information or offer support, you are in the process of becoming a successful, empathetic leader. Good leaders want success for everyone around them. And, being a part of a community is one of the quickest ways to deepen your understanding of why you are here and to journey closer to your purpose.
On the other hand, if you are the type of person who is highly empathetic and often taken advantage of by others, realize that deep empathy without personal boundaries is self-destructive. Take advantage of counseling services on campus and learn about boundaries. Read and watch videos on this subject matter.
Also, know that the pain of your past has nothing to do with your worth as a person.
There are many online experts who talk about how to heal from relationships with narcissistic people, and I hope you experts who give you new skills for taking care of yourself. All abuse is narcissistic in nature because those who are capable of understanding and empathizing with others would never abuse them.
I know you would like for your life to go smoothly and easily, but if you are facing any kind of challenge, know that life is asking you to grow. Try not to look as growth as a punishment; instead, look at it as an opportunity to do more good in this world than you thought possible. Your life can move with greater ease the more that you continue to learn.
Also, realize that people flower at different ages, and your time will be the right time for you.
College can be a beautiful time in your life because of the possibility of exponential growth. Years later, you might look back at a moment in a college class and realize how this moment shaped your life in miraculous ways. When you are present and soak up all that is offered to you, growth becomes easier. Although growth may be challenging, the product of growth can be glorious.
C.S. Lewis, an author and theologian best known for The Chronicles of Narnia, reminds us that “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
If you have suffered greatly in life or if you face great challenges at some point in your life, know that your destiny is one that can offer extraordinary hope to others. The darkest moments make the stars shine brighter.
The greatest stories are often the ones of overcoming the greatest odds.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is one of my favorite books. It is about a young man named William Kambwamba who overcame incredible odds because of his curiosity and love for learning. His story can be heard on a TED talk and has recently been made into a Netflix film.
Remember that it is possible to have a fresh start at any time that you choose. You can simply walk out into your world and choose not to let failure, setbacks, injustice, or any type of defeat define your future.
You are more powerful than you know, so believe this and create what you want to see in this world.