I used to be one of those people who always had a plan. All my time was accounted for, and I had an exact picture of what my future should look like. “Going with the flow” was never my forte. The sentiment, as easy-going as it was, even used sounded plain irresponsible. I felt the need to constantly take control of my life with the hopes I could somehow dictate the outcome of my future. Last year, however, was a chilling reminder there is only so much I can control.
It’s funny how a global pandemic has a way of reminding us we are not in charge. My friends and I went shopping for graduation outfits the weekend before our university closed due to COVID-19. Our last year of university was supposed to be the best one yet. We were finally Honors students, which meant more free time for us to participate in recreational activities. We were older, wiser, and ready to take our last semester at university by storm. Our lives were heading in different directions, and we were going to enjoy the little time we had together before going our separate ways.
2020 was supposed to be our last hurrah, and we planned to go out with a bang.
Instead, we spent most of the year frantically scheduling video calls and attempting to host watch parties. I then realized we spent a large part of our university lives planning that last year, only to have it taken away by the pandemic. There were days we could have appreciated each other more, but we were so focused on what our future would like. We, consequently, ended up missing out on the present by focusing on the promise of the future. Now that we had missed out on our last year of college together, and lived thousands of kilometers apart, I realized I missed the small things.
I missed finding my friends in my room after a long day of class. I missed going for dinner, at precisely six in the evening every day, and discussing with them the highs and lows of my day. I missed the chaotic Friday nights that made good stories to tell for Saturday brunch. I missed lazing around in the sun on Sunday afternoons. I wish I had taken a moment to step back and bask in those small moments. We spent more time thinking and dreaming about the future when we could have been making better memories.
However, in addition to overlooking valuable time spent with my friends, my obsession with the future proved consequential when I missed having a distinction in my Journalism degree by 4 percent. Graduating with distinction is equal to graduating cum laude; it is the highest academic honor you can get as a university student in South Africa. And, truthfully, it’s crushing not receiving the reward you wanted after working hard for it. It’s also tough to recover from losing something that would have meant so much to you.
So, I spent four years working hard towards graduating with a distinction in journalism. I would often cancel plans with my friend to hit the books. Sometimes I was too tired from studying to show up for any social activities. Although I celebrated getting my degree after finishing school, I still had a massive lump in my chest. It felt like my life was falling apart. How was it possible I worked so hard and still missed my goal by a measly 4 percent? I knew I couldn’t control the future, but I thought I could try. I thought my hard work and sacrifice would equal success.
After the initial disappointment of not getting a distinction in journalism, I was filled with regret and bitterness. I thought of the days I could have spent worry-free instead of being consumed by academic stress. Instead of focusing on trying my best, I was set on proving that I’m one of the best. My academic journey didn’t have to be so burdensome, but my obsession with the future worsened what could have been a more positive experience with school.
The past year has taught me the importance of living in the moment and detaching from my obsession with the outcome of the future. I have learned not to take small pleasures for granted and acknowledge the good times while they’re happening. I know that I’ll hug my friends a little tighter the next time I see them. I know that I’ll appreciate every moment we spend together and make sure it lasts as long as possible.
I’ll work hard because I enjoy doing so, not because I expect something glorious from my efforts. I’ll take note of and appreciate the lessons I learn on the journey without romanticizing what it will feel like to reach the pinnacle.
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