Things to Be Thankful For

As a senior who graduates in May, our very unusual circumstances at this point are obviously hitting me very hard. I’ve had many emotional breakdowns thinking about all of the lasts that I won’t be able to experience, and the worst part has been the not knowing when I left for spring break that my return to State College – the place that has become a home after 3.5+ years – would be uncertain. But despite the fact that this is a very emotional time, I have tried my best to consciously change my outlook and focus on the things that I am thankful for: the things that I have rather than the things that I miss. I want to make this blog post a refreshing list of things that I can think about rather than becoming upset every time I log onto Facebook and see another “Dear Seniors, I’m Sorry” shared article.

The weather

This may be a strange one to start out on, because I know a lot of people would opt for these circumstances to happen at a different time of year, but I’m trying to see the positives of the spring timing. It’s often sunny and the temperature is mild, meaning that I’m still able to go outside for walks, runs, and to play tennis. Even though I am not able to go to hometown friends’ houses (for very good reason), I have still been able to meet up with a couple of my friends in outdoor settings and catch up on life while maintaining that 6-foot social distance. If this were all happening during the dead of winter when the sky falls dark at 5:00 pm and the air is too cold for even a quick walk, I think my mood would be significantly worse.

Having a comfortable home

This is something that I cannot take for granted. A lot of people do not have the option to spend this time in a cozy and comfortable home with supportive family members who are fun to hang out with. One of my roommates at Penn State is from Panama, and she was literally not able to return to her home country because there is a travel ban in place. So, while I have people to keep me company and a cozy home to spend all of my time in, she must remain in State College uncertain of when she will be able to see her family again. I know that there are others in this situation, so I am grateful every day for the position that I am in and I will not take that for granted. 

The health of my family members

 Knock on wood! My family members remain happy and healthy. My grandparents are opting to stay inside so as not to put themselves at risk, and the rest of my family members are doing the same except when it is essential to run an errand. My dad is immunocompromised, so we have to take extra precaution in these trying times, but as of now, he is healthy. If the worst thing that we are feeling from this pandemic is stir crazy, then that in itself is something to be extremely thankful for.

Having my own room

 A small one, but something to point out nonetheless. It’s been four years since I’ve had my own bedroom. I love my roommate to death, but you can’t argue that it’s nice sometimes to have a place all to yourself to spend time to yourself in. I have really been basking in this newfound ability to have guiltless alone time. At school, I always felt the need to get out and do things constantly whether it was socially or academically. These circumstances have almost forced me to relax and take time for myself, and I am grateful for the chance to take a step back and be selfish in my boringness.

Access to technology

This is a huge one. As annoying as online classes are, at least we have the option to do online classes and still get our degree. As much as I would love to spend time with my friends in person, at least we have the option to video chat and stay updated on each other’s lives. Technology allows us to do so many things that can make this crazy new life livable. I don’t know how I would stay sane without all of the Netflix that I’ve been watching!

The Great British Baking Show

Number one tip to stay positive in these times? Watch the Great British Baking Show. Need I say more?

Listening Not Just to Respond

The article “You Are Either Listening or You’re Not” opens with the line “listening is endangered in America today,” and that caught my attention immediately. It goes on to say that listening, truly listening to what someone says is not something that we were ever taught but we were just expected to know. With time, we are all expected to develop the skill that is taking a step back and really hearing what someone else has to say rather than just listening for the sake of thinking of something to respond back. When I really think about it, and think about past experiences and past conversations that I’ve had, I realize that this skill is not something that develops at the same pace in everyone. Some people are the best listeners (and therefore the best people to talk to, in my opinion), and some people treat nearly every conversation like a race to get to their own personal point.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m the best listener in the world. Admittedly, I like to talk about myself and relate situations to things that I have experienced. But I am noticing this in myself and trying to be more conscious about it. I’ve been developing my listening skill through this realization and I tell myself that some conversations – especially those in which the other person has sought me out specifically to tell me about a problem of their own – should really remain focused on the other person. I tell myself that some conversations do not require a relatable anecdote or honest advice; sometimes, they just need someone on the other end who will listen.

I do think that the era that we live in has made it harder to truly focus and listen. With the ample distractions that surround us on a day to day basis, it is so easy for our minds to wander and wonder and not retain the attention span necessary to carry on a simple conversation. For example, my friend from high school visited this weekend – I hadn’t seen her in months – and despite the fact that I am actually very interested in what she’s been up to and how her life has been since the time that we last saw each other, I still found myself distracted by the devices and people around me. A text will pop up on my phone and I’ll immediately lose some of the focus that I had on a conversation, and I’ll noticed myself missing a few words and phrases here and there because I’m preoccupied thinking about what the message says on my device. For all of these reasons, I am trying to make more and more of a conscious effort to unplug and be as present as possible when I am listening to the people that I care about most.

One other part of the article that I was drawn to was the paragraph talking about how listening begins with humility – “the humility to ask an earnest question without assuming you already know the answer.” That is one of the things that I love most about getting to know new people: I want to know more about their lives and experiences and hear things that I am not already aware of. Why, then, in these conversations should I be anything less than the best listener I could strive to be? Learning is primarily listening, and as someone constantly hungry for more knowledge, it would serve me well to focus more and more each day on developing this essential life skill.