As we head into the grind of the trimester, I wanted to write a piece for anyone who’s already running on the dregs of yesterday’s coffee fix. In areas where we already know we’re lacking — motivation for starters — it can be really hard to confront and persevere past this. So in a bid to remedy the mid-trimester funk known to seize many people, here are five empowering thoughts to mull over as you go about your week. My hope is that they help you equip yourself to succeed this year.
1. Procrastination isn’t something to skirt under the rug, be embarrassed about, or feel ashamed of.
When I procrastinated in the past I’d do one or all of the above, though none of them ever got me far. It wasn’t until this year that I learnt instead to pause, and question. No one should venture into something new with failure in mind. If you asked yourself, “why am I procrastinating?” and actually created the breathing room to be honest, what would your answer be? Sometimes it really is because we’re feeling lazy, but a majority of the time there is a genuine reason. Maybe you’re afraid of failing; maybe you’re going through a rough time at the moment — we all have them; maybe the assignment you’re working on is worth a ridiculous percentage of your grade and you’re hella nervous you’ll choke; or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with the fast pace of university and onslaught of assignments. All of these reasons are totally valid and real. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out where your procrastination stems from at a given time. From there, the questions become a lot easier to answer. If you’re afraid of failure, what can you do/who can you see to help maximise your chances of success? If you’re going through a rough time, talking to a friend, counsellor, or someone you trust is a great place to start. If you’ve got big assignment or university’s overwhelming you, think of some ways to break the bigness of the situation down into smaller, more manageable portions.
2. Learn to discern the vital few from the trivial many.
Assignments, parties, friends, work, study time, flatmates. Social media, hobbies, family, kids, lectures, landlords, sports, church, boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other. Tutorials, travel time, sleep, chores, extracurriculars, leadership roles, clubs, finances. We really should get more credit for the amount of things we juggle simultaneously as university students, because it’s a lot. My question is, do you know what your vital few are? If it all hits the fan, or you come into a really busy season, do you know what to prioritise versus what to set aside? Do you know who your ride or die friends are and, more importantly, who they aren’t? After the two years I’ve been in Wellington, I finally feel like I’m beginning to understand this one, and if I can help someone discern this for themselves too, that’s a win. Not knowing what your vital few are when you’re going through a stressful time or a crazy busy month is extremely challenging! So, take advantage of your time now and pay attention to the people and things that bring you fulfilment, as well as those that don’t. That way, in future seasons of busyness or hardship, you’re equipped to prioritise the things that are meaningful to you and the people who you value.
3. What does “good enough” look like for you?
It’s different for everyone — an A for some, a B for others, or any mark that gets you passing a paper. Good for you! Regardless of the grade bracket you’re aiming for, the fact that you’re here speaks volumes in itself. Being at university, you’re going to find yourself pitted or scaled against external measurements more than once, so it’s beyond important to know what good enough looks like for you. Being content with the effort, focus, and time you’ve expended on a given venture or assignment is a freedom so many struggle to live in because it’s something no one else on Earth can give you; you give it to yourself. When you’re yet to define and live by your own standard of good enough, this is where it can get tricky. If not my own, then whose standard am I using to appraise the quality of what I’m doing? Moreover, is the appraisal it’s giving me of any substance or truth? I’ve talked with so many people who were downcast about different areas of their lives because of this, and it’s one of the saddest things to see. There is only one of you in this world friend, only one. I’m imploring you, invest your care and attention into developing your own scale of what “good enough” looks like so that you don’t fall prey to the downward spiral of comparison that blinds and disheartens so many.
4. Rock your whare (house) — no one can do that better than you.
As a follow on from number three, I wanted to dig deeper into this because comparison has become one of the most pervasive yet socially accepted forms of self-depreciation we see today. Attacking far more than the quality of what you do, comparison edges up to the jugular; eventually questioning the quality and substance of your humanity. I am so over it. I’ve absolutely had it with the culture of insecurity that comparison — especially by way of social media — ingrains into the hearts and minds of our generation. Imagine how much more good we could all do in this world if we lived by an internally-fostered definition of success, rather than subscribing to other people’s.
So as an alternative to comparison, let me introduce to you the concept of “rocking your whare” — I think you’ll like it. A nifty wee saying born out of a conversation a friend and I had at a party (of all places), rocking your whare is essentially dancing to the beat of your own drum, but it’s grounded in the knowledge that you’re too valuable to be another piece on comparison’s marketplace. With a price that comparison could never pay, rocking your whare means being proud of doing you and measuring yourself only by your own progress, rather than trying to be anyone else. Here’s the analogy behind it: imagine the different parts of your person and life as rooms that together make up a whare; it can be as big or as small as you like. Now think of the more guarded parts of yourself that not many, if any, people know about — what do those rooms look like? How do you imagine those spaces to be? And more importantly, would you want everyone’s eyes to be able to survey the spaces holding your life’s most intimate details? Probably not. Herein lies the first and most important step in rocking your whare — realising that every person has locked doors, closed curtains, and rooms that they keep out of everyone’s sight. Every. Body. Has. Them. And while everyone goes about curating the spaces they deem worthy for others to see, this doesn’t equate to an absence of fallibility or flaws. It just means those aspects of their personhood are in rooms you and I don’t know about. Next time you find yourself comparing everyone’s curations to your entire whare — the good, bad, and ugly of your humanity solely against the things immediately visible to you in another’s life — stop and pause. Remember that we can only ever see as far into someone else’s whare as they let us.
Step two of rocking your whare is placing your focus onto the good things in your own life. Every single moment spent envying another person’s whare is a moment taken away from appreciating, renovating, and creating beauty in your own. And if you’re thinking anything along the lines of, “there’s not much gold in my life” then friend, start looking for some! Gold isn’t easy to find for a reason. If it were commonplace, it would be as meaningful as concrete. Seek it out in your friendships, relationships, hobbies, and passions, using the significance and vitality these things create to adorn every room of your whare. Go crazy and make it something you’re beyond proud of. Rock it with the confidence that there’s no one on the planet who can do it better than you. Also keep in mind that rocking your whare is a two-step process that needs both stages to create a sustained shift in perspective. If you’ve been outsourcing affirmation and self-worth from comparison’s marketplace for a while, it’s going to take time to stop exchanging yourself for another.
This language may sound pretty odd, but I use it very intentionally. Comparison severely erodes a person’s ability to empathise and we need to set the record straight about how ugly it is. If I’m using comparison to feel better about myself, it’s at someone else’s expense. If I’m using someone else’s failures or hardships as self-affirming highs, if I am too busy leaching validation off of another person’s shortcomings, I am totally disempowered from being able to give any degree of empathy, compassion, or aroha towards them. The one-liners are everywhere — “I’m so glad that’s not me,” “oh but I didn’t do as badly as them so I don’t feel as bad,” “sucks to be them,” or “they probably deserve it,” among others. Knowing who you are as an individual comes from investing into yourself, not by gauging how you measure up against everyone else. Focus on learning the unforced rhythm of competing with no one, so that no one can compete with you. The more we boycott the lose-lose game of comparison and invest into ourselves, the sooner we’ll learn to be content with who we are. Each of us are here to rock our own whare bigger and better than anyone else every could; free from the insecurity to be anything or anyone other than ourselves. And if not now, when? If not you, then who? I’ll say it one more time. Rock. Your. Whare!
5. One can do more than you think.
Summarising the theme of our pep talk to the letter, this point is crucial. None of the four previous points stand without it because doing life well — which is my hope for everyone who reads this — is done by understanding the power and value of one. One seems insignificant at times, but if we look through history’s pages to Sir Apirana Ngata, Martin Luther King Jr, Muhammad Ali, Kate Sheppard, Sir Edmund Hillary, and countless others, it becomes clear that one can always do more than we think. All backed and championed by many, yes, but all with a dream that started out in one. As a writer it’s interesting, because unless someone directly tells you, we never really know the impact our words have. I don’t have a clue who I’m empowering or enabling, but I’ll bet my bottom dollar that there’s at least one, and that one could go on to create change that impacts twenty, and from that twenty, a hundred, and from that hundred, thousands. Or, maybe not. You just never know. One person wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, yet millions studied it. One split time itself in half, and now we live every year in AD. One invented the lightbulb way back when, and now we live in a world where Virtual Reality is something you can purchase in a store. While none of these ones were completely alone in their endeavours, they had the ultimate challenge of trailblazing the unchartered way for months, years, decades even, until others joined their cause. Irrespective of time or place, history echoes the same story over and over — one can always do more than you think. You can do more than you think.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! I hope it encourages and challenges you to see your trimester/semester/season of life through strong.
Mate ururoa e hoa mā!
Feature piece for Victoria University's Salient Magazine