(This letter is being sent to current and previous students of mine in the past 2 years, as part of a series I started when UWB first went into lockdown. An archive of previous emails can be found on my website. If you want off this mailing list, let me know. If you want to stay on it after you graduate, send me your non-UW email address.)
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything to you all so apologies for that.
Usually, I’d send something out at the beginning of the new school year — just some words of encouragement or whatnot — but this summer and fall, I was going through a high-stress period, and I couldn’t bring myself to write anything, feeling a bit hypocritical giving you all hopeful thoughts while I was myself feeling extremely anxious and down.
For the past 2 years, I’ve been saying over and over again that to live a good life is to be true to yourself and stick to what you believe. If you make decisions that you believe are right, you won’t have regrets and you can minimize self-doubt. Attend to yourself and loved ones. Stay connected.
Also, remember that you are part of something bigger, and be in awe of the cosmos and your place in it. Any troubles you may be experiencing are tiny blips in the overall scheme of things. You’re temporary configurations of star stuff that for a brief moment means you’re human and alive, and your only job is to live. Experience life in all its glory, both the amazingly good things and the really crappy things since it’s all exquisitely beautiful.
When life is absurd, the only sane response is to fully embrace it and laugh. Elect to partake and you are in control of your attitude if not your circumstances.
But this year has really made me rethink some of these things. It’s not that you won’t regret things; I think now that it’s natural to have regrets and wish things could have gone differently. But also, it’s more that you have to learn how to be at peace with yourself and accept that you did your best at the time. At the end of it all, if you did your best, you did your best. That’s what being human is — perfection in the imperfection.
I had a friend who went through medical and financial distress and asked me for money, and I gave her money. But then she kept asking for more, and I kept giving her more. Each time I asked myself What would be the ethical thing to do? Can I afford it? Would this money mean much more to her than to me? and each time I decided to give her what she asked for. But I became The Giving Tree (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Giving_Tree , https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/parenting/we-need-to-talk-about-the-giving-tree.html) and gave her so much until I could not give anymore, and, in hindsight, I realize now that she was manipulating me (maybe without her even realizing it), guilt-tripping and emotionally pulling me… taking advantage of the projected identity of myself that I consistently tried to live up to and strive for. This shook my belief in myself and I didn’t know how to live anymore or how to give advice to you all anymore. I felt guilt for not being able to help more, and I felt guilt for helping too much, jeopardizing my own future livelihood and that of my family. But I also worry that I was inadvertently feeding a drug or gambling habit. I just don’t know what her outcome ended up being, but, because she kept asking, I eventually blocked her from all my accounts. I imagine she feels abandoned, and I have guilt about that, too.
So now what? I got better. I sought help and have talked to many friends and family about this. I developed severe anxiety, but I found ways to deal with it through counseling and medication. And yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I had a truly happy day, celebrating the culmination of a quarter-long project with some of my students and then playing tabletop games at a board game cafe afterward. It reminded me of what I love: guiding young people toward a brighter future and having fun while doing it.
So I’m writing again. I think maybe I’m better prepared for life now; the image of myself and who I want to be was tested and has stayed true. But I have limits and balance and social checks in place now that weren’t there before, to make sure things never go so awry again. It helps to talk about things with people, you know?
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and, if you’re a student, a good end of the quarter. Let me know if you need anything.
P.S. I’ve been watching the World Cup!
P.P.S. Some good resources:
- Teen Vogue Dictionary: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/teen-vogue-history-dictionary
- Ambient cafe sounds: https://coffitivity.com/
- 10 quotes for fighting imposter syndrome: https://www.inspiringquotes.com/10-quotes-for-fighting-imposter-syndrome/YvbC6mlWmQAHMoEt?liu=4a73d6498b954fc0f112c44c4319452b
- Modern Loss: https://modernloss.com/
- Cosmic Consolation: https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/03/15/john-burroughs-an-outlook-upon-life/
- And go watch Everything Everywhere All at Once!
- New awesome images of the Pillars of Creation thanks to the JWST (click one of the bigger sizes on the left)! https://webbtelescope.org/contents/media/images/01GK2KKTR81SGYF24YBGYG7TAP