The Best Lessons I Learned in 2015

It’s been a tough year for me.

This time last year, my whole life was flipped upside down in an unimaginable way.

One day, you’re walking about the world, looking at everything a certain way, feeling a certain way, and expressing yourself in a certain way.

Suddenly everything is different. How you think, feel, and see the world can never go back to the way it was before. It’s scary. And it’s so hard. And it’s constantly changing, even today.

On Dec. 26, 2014, one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing left us in a sudden and tragic way.

Colleen was so many wonderful things. A few weeks shy of 21 years old, she was vivacious, she was hilarious, she was kind, she was thoughtful, she was brilliant. She was one of my three best friends at Loyola. I loved her and continue to love her so much. She was one third of my sun at Loyola. And then suddenly she was gone. As a result, my whole world got dimmer.

You find ways to patch together little glimmers of light here and there, but the light you once enjoyed can never be fully restored.

This new world is the one I must live in every day now, and I am trying to live the best life I can without her.

For her.

Colleen and Rachel

When everything you’ve worked and planned for changes, it’s hard to let go of the past and focus on a new reality. But what other choice do we really have?

This past year has taught me a lot about myself, my life, my peers and the world I live in. Some of these things have not been easy or fun to learn. But a few things have changed me for the better, and these changes are ones I proudly stand behind and will carry into the future.

One big thing that has changed for the better is my ability to appreciate the things I have.

I show my appreciation for my family and friends as often as possible, but I don’t stop there…

Gratitude goes such a long way in someone’s day. 

Tell your mom you love her. Hug your roommate for no good reason. Grab coffee with a friendly acquaintance you’d like to get to know better. Thank the Boulder Cafe employee with a warm smile as they refill the napkin dispenser. Buy the drink for the person behind you in line at Starbucks. Hold the door open for the person a few steps behind you walking into Maryland Hall. Thank your professor for their enlightening lecture.

It’s the little things that can be so important.

Allowing myself to feel more than I have in the past has made a big impact on my daily life.

Nothing good comes from bottling feelings up or from belittling your feelings. So own your feelings and feel them all; feel them loudly. And don’t apologize for them, ever.

Embrace your feelings so you can better understand and learn from them.

Loyola teaches us cura personalis, or care for the whole person, and it’s something you must learn to do. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

I’ve started believing more in myself, what I can offer, and what I am capable of accomplishing. It’s more than I ever led myself to believe before. It’s encouraging me to not settle, and to go after what I really want, owning my passions. It helps me to live life with less fear of the unknown. So apply for that pipe dream internship, because you never know what might happen.

Examining the world on a deeper level is now a default. I have learned to look past the surface and pull back the layers to unveil all sides of the story.

I’ve also learned to hold people to a higher standard. They will surprise you and rise to the occasion more often than not. Magis, “the more,” is a Jesuit value, and in 2015, it became one of mine. 

Happiness is yours to create. Some days, we are not in control of our feelings. I know better than anyone how hard it can be to smile some days. But the grand scheme of happiness is yours to decide. The situation you’re in, whether it’s what you wanted or not, will only be as great as you make it and think it is.

Stay positive, especially when things don’t go the way you wanted or planned. It will make all the difference in your outlook.

At Loyola, I have learned the importance of reflection. It’s a skill I am very grateful to have.

If you let yourself reflect deeply and feel completely, you will see a change in your life.

When life puts you through hell, you can choose to let it consume you, or you can fight through it and keep pushing until you see the other side. Once you make it out of the fire, it will be a long road to rebuild. But rebuild and you will be stronger, smarter, and slightly less fearful of the journey and all the exciting things it has to offer you.

Just when you think you can’t go any further, take one more step.

These are feats you can accomplish when you push yourself to reflect and think about your life from a new perspective.

Above all else, keep moving forward.

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