Lessons from first year: growth isn’t achieved inside your comfort zone

Learning that dimming my own light doesn’t benefit anyone

Alexa believes change is imperative for growth.

As the only woman in my family to attend University in a double degree program, I spent a long time idealizing the experience.

Little did I know, that my first year would bring its own set of uncomfortable challenges and lessons I could have never seen coming, but for which I could not be more grateful.

I came to Queen’s looking for a fresh start after experiencing a series of romantic and friendship betrayals in high school. And, though I was optimistic and ambitious at the beginning of the year, I struggled to be myself.

I found myself perplexed by fears of letting people get too close to me, while also desiring deeper and more intimate connections. I closed myself off from making friends and wasn’t open to others with my emotions.

I convinced myself that remaining mysterious and secretive about my care for others was a good thing. I thought it was easiest to avoid showing others I could empathize with them.

I began to suppress what I now consider to be my strongest traits: my passion, free-spiritedness, generosity, extroversion, and sense of independence. I thought I would be criticized for my analytical and leadership qualities.

I completely ignored my initial impulses; I stopped being someone who connected with others.

My social circle was not as positive as it once was, and I quickly found myself acting out of character. Even after earning myself a nickname for being a loud extrovert, I was still selling myself short for the sake of making others comfortable.

Some of my friends knew about my trauma history and while I had truly loving and genuine feelings towards them, things weren’t the same. And I went along with it thinking that deep down they might care about me.

Given my past of poor friendship and relationship experiences, I stopped standing strong in fear of negative reactions. In first year, I received threads of aggressive text messages from my friends, especially when I was standing strong in myself.

After such a troubling time, I finally decided I had to take action towards my future first, and if disconnecting from my friend group meant that I would be alone, then I was ready to take that solo journey.

Despite the hurt this caused, I learned heartbreak can have some positive side effects—one being  that not every loss is negative.

While, in my opinion, losing friends is one of the worst types of suffering, it was the catalyst for change and self-growth.

I often found myself prioritizing the worries of others over my own needs and experiencing guilt and powerlessness when I couldn’t help them. I felt offended when I was offered help because it made me feel like other people didn’t believe in my strength.

Before I knew it, I began to ignore others. I discovered a sense of relief in my ability to take charge of my life when I was on my own. I fantasized about wanting better relationships for myself. I was determined to build a positive future.

The sense of time became stagnant the more I isolated myself from social endeavours. I felt alone, but I thought it was better than being with people who treated me poorly. There’s a difference between being alone and feeling alone.

Singlehood didn’t bother me much because I was comfortable on my own, but I dreamed about having just one strong friendship with another person—and, I thought, what if I could have more?

Once I accepted that everyone handles their emotions differently and that others’ experiences may vary greatly from my own, I finally opened myself to the possibility of talking romantically again, after a few years.

While it wasn’t a completely smooth path back to healthy relationship habits, I continued to be patient with others and work on my path to growth. I had to accept a change in mindset and decide I deserved good people and things in my life, despite my past.

When I stopped tolerating mistreatment, I learned to embrace my self-worth. I felt empowered and comfortable in my own decisiveness by choosing to let go of friendships that weren’t serving my growth, even if I wished them best from a distance.

I learned how to forgive others, and myself, for my suffering.

I felt deep regret towards my first year at Queen’s, because I wished I listened to my intuition. I wished I cut things off as soon as I felt something wasn’t right.

To combat this sense of regret, I needed to take accountability for jumping headfirst into opportunities while being impulsive.

I also had to use my empathic skills in an uncomfortable way. I had to realize not everyone approaches life or emotions in the same way I do, and not everyone is willing to reconcile differences. And that’s okay!

The moral of the story is I learned to embrace conflict and turned the pain into
a chance to learn. Now, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have found amazing friends and professors who believe in my success.

Finding gratitude for the spontaneity of life and letting go is hard, but it’s beneficial in the long-term. It’s so incredibly important to take the opportunities presented to you as a chance to grow.

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