Number 24: Be present, enjoy the now.

by: Elissa Chee, Staff Writer

Photo source: Unsplash

And with that, the 2023 season has come to an end…

It’s half-past five when I make it back to my dorm. I kick the door open with my foot and sigh in relief as I finally let go of my bags: four duffels stuffed with essentials for the upcoming week. The ceiling light lets out three weak stutters before gradually filling the empty room with a dim yellow glow, and I watch as my fingers regain circulation. I breathe out. I’ve got this. I’m going to do it right this year.

But wait—that sounds familiar.

Five months ago, I’d thought the same thing. Everything, including my decision to attend U of T, was about selecting the “right” university, choosing the “best” option. I was obsessed with optimizing every decision I made. And while this way of life—that is, making small sacrifices now for better outcomes later—might’ve been incredibly beneficial in the long run, it was equally stressful to constantly live for potentials rather than for the present. 

The jump from high school to university classes went from 15 steps to 1.5 kilometers, both literally and figuratively. Balancing classwork was a challenge, but so were new friendships. Everything I’d been so familiar with in high school was now foreign and had to be rebuilt in university. Many days, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed.

But it turns out that these stressors were universally felt by my fellow first-years as we entered a new chapter of our lives. There was no doubt that they were very real fears in the moment, but the semester turned out far less catastrophic than I’d expected. As summer turned to fall then to winter, the imposter syndrome died down after a couple of assignments and solidified as newfound confidence. I learned to navigate the campus labyrinth of buildings and narrow shortcuts, and eventually, I became more comfortable with the vigorous academic expectations of this university. The monsters that I thought I’d face in September had been banished. After all, monsters are only real when you keep looking for them under beds or in closets.

I close the door to my closet. With my luggage unpacked and my dorm reorganized, I flop down onto my bed. The sheets are soft and clean. As lethargy begins to settle in, my mind drifts to the high school reunion I attended over the break. In just four months, my classmates reinvented their wardrobes, got new haircuts, and developed confidence and conviction in their choices and goals. When I leaned over and asked my friends if they noticed the changes in our classmates, they told me that I, too, had changed. “You seem more confident now!” 

And suddenly, though I’m lying horizontally on the bed, I grow dizzy with disorientation. I shoot up, feeling something in me flip on its head. Then it hits me: I’ve been so busy monster-hunting that I hadn’t realized how much I’ve changed too. What other things had flown over my head while I’d been fixated on the future?

I clamber up, pull out my journal and pen, and open to a fresh page. Holding the pen, I draw one line down the center and one line across the top. I pause and close my eyes. Already, I can envision the start of the term, the weather distressing and the road salts seeping into the bottoms of my shoes. But I’m smiling; I’m enjoying the present. I’m nodding at and waving to people in the halls, taking new classes with old friends, and reflecting on the small wins in daily life. When I open my eyes again, I turn my focus back to the page. 

On the left, I list twenty-three things to bid farewell to.

           On the right, I list twenty-four things to welcome.

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