In recent days, I came across 3 persons from very different ages and life circumstances that have one thing in common: each of them has been been struggling with a difficult situation by themselves.
Talking with each of these 3 persons reminded me of a message that I sent to my students not long ago. It is a very personal message and, certainly, it is not about marketing in everyday life. But it is about life, and it is important, and so I thought that I would share it with you, too.
The message was entitled ‘My Cousin’s Wedding‘, and this is what I wrote:
When I was a teenager I went to a family wedding. It must have been a beautiful ceremony followed by a great party, but I confess that I don’t really remember. In fact, there are only 2 things that I remember from that wedding. The first one is the hairstyle. It involved a lot of hair spray and I felt like a rock star. The second one is something that a misty eyed (and rather drunk) uncle told to the bride and groom. He said that the secret to happiness is to keep talking because ‘when you talk, your happiness gets doubled and your sorrows are halved’.
The fancy hairstyle is long gone (and, for good measure, so are the pictures), but the advice has stayed with me and has served me really well. Sometimes, I told other people about something that I thought was OK, and they showed me that it was, in fact, very good. And that boosted my self-confidence, and inspired me to reach higher and higher. Sometimes, I felt I was a misfit, but someone showed me that I was not alone. And learning that others had experienced the same feelings gave me hope. Sometimes, I told people about a problem I was facing, and they showed me a way out of what I thought was a dead end. I learned about useful resources available to me or I learned a new way of looking at the situation that I was facing. Other times I talked about something that was worrying me and… I have no idea what people said in return because all I really needed was the time and the space to think through what was in my head. Voicing my concerns to somebody else had given me exactly that time and space.
I am mentioning this because it never ceases to amaze me what you have achieved outside of the classroom. Some of you have great initiatives for your neighbourhood, for a charity that you support, for other colleagues, for a cause… You may shrug it off as something rather mundane when it is, in fact, extraordinary. Talking about these initiatives with someone may help you see how you can use these experiences to stand out in the job market.
Similarly, I am truly humbled by the incredible challenges that you face. In my years of teaching in general, and the past few months in particular, I have come across incredible personal stories. There were stories of financial struggles and of self-doubt. I heard of body image problems, unthinkable grief and immense pain. There are terminal illnesses to deal with, family dynamics to adjust to. The list goes on and on and on. What saddens me is that many of you carry these burdens alone, and miss on the many forms and various sources of support available to you at Brookes or in the wider community (e.g., your health centre).
Our mission at Brookes is to help you live lives of consequence. But for that, you need to make the most of your assets and strengths, and to offload the problems dragging you down. Please know that you can always approach me to talk through whatever is on your mind. I can not promise to understand what you are going through, but I can promise to listen without judgment. I am never too busy to talk with you, and if I can not see you immediately, I will be at the end of a phone. Or you may prefer to get a male perspective on your problem – [name of colleague] has a wealth of experience to draw on. Or you may prefer to approach your dissertation supervisor, or a module leader with whom you can communicate easily. There is also [name of colleague] and the other amazing student support coordinators, who know about all sort of resources at Brookes and about the rules you need to be aware of, and who go well beyond their duty to ensure that you get the practical and emotional support you need. There is also the counselling service based in Headington Hill, as well as online resources: http://www.brookes.ac.uk/student/services/counselling/selfhelp/bibliotherapy.html
Talk. Ask for help. Reach out. It is not a weakness. It is something that you owe to your future selves, and to those persons in your past who helped you get here and have cheered you on from the side lines.
Also, please, make sure that you eat well (quantity and quality) and stay hydrated, as food and water are essential fuel for your brain. And get out: enjoy the sun and the open spaces and get moving. Anything can feel gloomy and difficult when you are stuck inside four walls all day.