Khánh Nguyễn/ The Sunflower.
Dear incomplete, withdrawn, overdue, failing, and not graduating students,
Relax. You did good. You did the best you could. It may sting but it’s okay that you’re not in graduation cap and gown today.
You may wish you had done better, done more, done less or done differently. Make a note and learn what to try next time but don’t beat yourself up, put yourself down or give up.
If nobody else tells you this, you really are exceptional and you deserve a huge award for getting here.
Love, Your friend & biggest fan
That’s what I wish someone had said to me every day since Nov. 7, 2020 — the day I contracted COVID-19 and my life began to unravel at a pace I couldn’t recover from.
I spent 13 and a half weeks surviving. I barely managed anything else. That’s a big chunk of the year and a major setback in the second year of a Master’s degree program. It’s expected to take two years for full-time students to complete. It feels like I have two years of incomplete work left.
But some quick math here allows me to pause. There’s 52 weeks in a year. Fifty-two divided by 13.5 is 25.96% — the percentage of the last year that was entirely lost to me. That’s something.
That means I need to be at least 25.96% kinder to myself. How about you?
When my brain starts screaming about how behind I am and what I have not finished or even started, and my to-do list hits 100 items, I need to remind myself I am 25.96% less prepared and experienced than my colleagues this year.
I am 13 weeks off from everyone else’s schedule. But that’s not really the same thing as being behind schedule.
If a woman goes into labor and spends 14 hours having a baby, is she 14 hours behind schedule for that week?
No. That’s ridiculous.
If a person gets hit by a car and ends up in an ambulance instead of in their exam, are they late for their exam? No. They’re having an emergency, and of course the exam can wait.
The schedules imposed by a university, a teacher, your family, or youthful dreams and pre-pandemic plans are important. But those schedules aren’t meant to accommodate life. They don’t change except when it have to. Like this past year when WSU changed its schedule not once, not twice, but three times.
Guess what? You weren’t designed to be on schedule when you’re sick, injured, anxious, depressed, afraid, and under enormous pressure. You’re not a machine. If a university can muddle through and make reluctant but necessary allowances, so can you.
Allow yourself some new expectations. Allow yourself to cheer for your contribution to the world and this community. Allow yourself to feel grateful for being here when hundreds of thousands of dear friends and family members didn’t live to see this day. Allow yourself to be OK with where you are and what’s not happening “as scheduled.” Chances are, the pressure is mostly coming from yourself and not from outsiders or higher ups.
Stop being a jackass. To yourself. Seriously.
You must give yourself some grace. Nobody can do it for you. Nobody can fix your mess, even if they should, Even if they owe you. Even if they caused or contributed to it.
But know this — your mess is mine. It’s not owned by you alone. It’s not copyrighted. It’s not the only mess or burden to bear. Yes, it is unique and individualized. Yes it is hard in ways and for reasons only you know and care about. Yes it sucks.
But it’s not over. Don’t do further damage to your confidence and productivity by wringing your hands, panicking or pleading with the Lord about things that aren’t done.
The past isn’t coming back. You know this, but somehow your brain keeps wishing — wishing you had or hadn’t. Then it says the word should. I should or shouldn’t; I should have or could have. I wish.
It repeats. Over and over, popping up at the worst times. And creating a storm of feelings — a fast-moving dangerous, electric, emotional swirl like sound and thunder.
Dismiss those rumblings. Close the window to that driving wind and rain.
Put up your umbrella, kid. It might be raining but you don’t have to walk into the storm. Or stand in a rising flood.
Move out. Move on. Seek shelter.
Now take a breath, drink some water, eat a veggie and get some vitamin D. Go for a walk. Then sleep. Not forever. Not for days or weeks, but sleep until you don’t need to use 18 alarms and panic buttons to get out of bed.
Sleep until the tears dry and the frustration and self-criticism quiet down. Sleep until you feel halfway human.
Then get up. Get moving and get fueled.
Don’t turn on your computer right away. Don’t check your email. Keep your device off. You can navigate the morning without it for once.
Open a notebook and make a schedule for that day. Just that day. If you start making to-do lists, limit yourself to 10 items. No matter what. Just 10. I’m serious.
Work on the first one for one hour. Don’t judge yourself by what’s not done yet. Just get through one hour.
Then you can check your messages, run errands or read the news.
Soon thereafter, sit back down and look at the list. You can sigh or pout but follow through. Start working on task number two. Do that for one hour.
That’s how you get through it. That’s how you finish.
It is one step at a time, one day at a time, one to-do at a time. And it may take a long time, but one by one, you will check things off. Day by day, you will get through this.
That will come. I promise.
What will help you today is not watching graduation. It sounds harsh or selfish but if you think it’s going to do anything but hurt then you’re fooling yourself. So don’t do it.
Don’t look at smiling photos of success stories you wish were yours — not today.
You want to celebrate friends and classmates of course. Too bad it’s number 11 on your to-do list and you’re only allowed 10 things today.
There are more important things to do first.
You have ten things to focus on, remember? Tomorrow can handle number eleven.
So leave the self-criticizing pop-up where it belongs — in the garbage.
You’re not incomplete. You’re not withdrawn. You’re not a failure. You’re a student, and it’s your job to learn. So do that.
Good job, student. Good freaking job.
Now take a step in the right direction — chin up, buttercup. You’re a Shocker. Go act like it.