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As I enter my 4th and final year of university, I can’t help but reflect on the journey I have had so far. I have no doubt that I am a much, much different person than I was when I started here. I seem to have told myself that over and over but I’ve never actually thought about how or in what ways. So allow me to illustrate, with the assistance of hindsight, 41 life lessons I have now learned to understand and appreciate, that have made my life better (for the most part):

  1. Professors are just people.
  2. My peers are a lot like me in many respects.
  3. There is no point wasting my time on people who don’t bring me happiness.
  4. If I only say nice things about people, less people will dislike me.
  5. It is OK for me to dislike people, and it is OK for people to dislike me.
  6. People will remember me not only for what I say but also for what I do.
  7. Belonging to something is an amazing feeling.
  8. Other people know things that I don’t know.
  9. My circle of immediate friends will change from year to year.
  10. Thirsty Thursdays are a trap after 2nd year.
  11. If an assignment is due on Thursday, it should be treated like it is really due on Monday.
  12. For the most part, OC Transpo’s service is a lot better than people make it seem.
  13. “Will I remember this tough moment a year from now?” is a great question.
  14. It is necessary to travel while I am young and able.
  15. I should take more pictures.
  16. Learning new things is actually fun and cool.
  17. Showing emotions is acceptable and normal.
  18. Many more things are actually within my control than not.
  19. Some things are out of my control.
  20. Wearing clothes that I like puts me in a better mood.
  21. I have a lot of nervous energy.
  22. I have to exercise every day or I won’t be able to focus.
  23. Whenever I feel like complaining about something, I should first think about why things are this way, in the first place.
  24. It isn’t my role to pass judgement on the decisions of other people.
  25. If I want to know the answer to something, I should ask instead of guessing.
  26. No means no.
  27. When I am in a club setting, I should dance like nobody is watching me.
  28. It is likely that nobody is watching me dance in that moment.
  29. I secretly do like dancing.
  30. I feel better when I focus on right now than when I focus on the future.
  31. Silence is OK.
  32. Some things in the world need to change, but some other things do not need to change.
  33. It turns out that I actually do love Twitter.
  34. I should not define myself or anyone else by material things.
  35. Not drinking is a viable option on most occasions.
  36. A good leader knows when to be a follower.
  37. I am complimented more when I am not looking for compliments.
  38. Being a good communicator means being a good listener.
  39. Every person defines success in their own way.
  40. Differences challenge assumptions.
  41. I made the right decision for me by going to Carleton.

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Surround yourself with people who only emanate negative vibes. Convince yourself that this is as good as it gets and that you don’t deserve to be happy. Ignore anyone who might be able to help you. Believe that nobody else has gone through the same feelings about life that you are.

Walk with your head down. Complain constantly. Make decisions that please you in the short term but damage your future opportunities. Be unaware of those future opportunities.

Never go above the bare minimum. Find your comfort zone and never even think about leaving it. Never do things to benefit other people. Volunteer but expect to be repaid. Keep your frustration to yourself until you can’t bare it, then lash out at anyone who reaches out to you.

Be intolerant of others and their preferences for life. Avoid meaningful conversation at all costs. Depend on other people to bring you happiness, and whine when they come up short. Never acknowledge it when they actually come through. Always demand more from every situation, but never do more, yourself.

Be less active than a rock for long stretches of time. Never listen to music. Hit at least 15 bowls a day to numb the reality that you just don’t give a damn. Never say thank you. Suspect everyone of having selfish motives when they behave in a way that conveniences others. Disregard all advice.

Only use social media to bring other people down. Do not brush your teeth unless you are about to go to the dentist. Ignore many aspects of your own hygiene. Physically harm yourself for attention.

Give up hope.

So many little things have had to go right for me to be where I am at this very moment. I recognize that I am really indebted to the people who have given me the chance to succeed and thrive; who have given me the chance to understand more about me, how I work and how I fit into this big world. It’s really not that big. We’re all so connected. It’s easy to feel connected for me today.

To my friends who have been here since the very beginning. Back when our parents went to coffee mornings together and we played each week. We may not be as close as we once were. You have taught me to never forget where I started.

To the team mates I’ve had, particularly in hockey when I was growing up. I do feel like I was isolated and an oddball for many years. I was always there at the rink but never invited to anything more, for whatever reason. But I want to thank all of you for the time that we spent together. We did win those championships together. I do credit a lot of the things I’m doing now to the positive experiences that we spent together, and the winning attitude that we created.

To the people I met in high school, both whom I still talk to today and whom I haven’t seen since prom. You were there to see me through my awkward stages of uncivilized afro-edness and burly sideburns to the  months I straightened my hair and wore skinny jeans to school every day. And still tolerated me, if not even liked me.

To the friends I’ve made since I started university, particularly in the last 3 months. I would not be where I am today if not for you. I have made such great strides in terms of my self confidence and the image that I’ve created of myself thanks to you. And while I haven’t broken down in front of you yet, I know you will be there for me when it happens.

To my family who through all the ups and downs are still there for me to this day. For being the rock of my life, the ultimate support group. Even though we disagree. I’m starting to realize that my parents can be my best friends. I think I’m getting to the point where it is more sensible to discuss than to argue; to listen than to explain to. You have taught me manners. You have taught me to respect other people. There are plenty of things that I will take from what you have taught me when the time comes that I will start my own family. But that is not in my plans for the near future. As you have reminded me, there is so much time and opportunity for me right now. I would be foolish to let it slip out of my fingers.

To everyone I have ever met, even if it was only for an instant. Everyone who has ever said a word to me, held eye contact with me, believed in me. You have helped me get to where I am. I’ve never felt more in control of my life, and it is largely due to everyone who has been a part of it.

I’ve been able to discover things about myself that I didn’t know I could do. I feel like a leader because the people I surround myself with are so supportive of me. I’ve expanded my friend circle so greatly and it is absolutely wonderful. I’ve decided to really give more than the minimum in several things I’ve been doing, and I’ve been reaping the rewards for my efforts. I’ve found that this is the most rewarding way to live that I have tried so far. I’ve decided to continue on this path for the foreseeable future.

I can’t believe it took me so long to realize how good it feels to be involved in something. Whatever excuses I made before, I don’t think I can’t nor want to justify them any more.

We had our Shinerama meeting tonight and suddenly I became so excited for the upcoming regional conference in Waterloo next month… It just came over me. All the plans that we have made for this summer are so achievable and yet not easy. There is just so much for me to look forward to right now. My life is definitely on a high. I never want to come down. I feel like I could be this happy for a very long time.

I have developed as a person so much in the last few years and this is becoming absolutely clear to me. More clear than ever before. I am a leader. I am not worried to admit it. I am a strong and confident and articulate person who others care about, and that… that is the most secure feeling a person can have.

Lately I’ve just found myself feeling more grateful for the gifts that I’ve been provided than I have ever been before. I hope it keeps going.

I’ll be the first to admit that I really don’t like when people give me advice on how to live my life. Either it’s because I’m too stubborn to accept what someone else has to say or I’m just not ready to make a change. Even with minor things. But really, what makes someone else feel so entitled to tell me how to do things I’ve been doing for the longest time? On what grounds is someone else better equipped than I am to make choices that they feel are right for me? I feel confident that I know what actions are in my best interest. And while I admit that everyone makes mistakes, myself included, I’d rather do something that ends up not working out because I wanted to than because someone else thought it would be right for me to do.

I’ve been on and off reading this book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and it’s really opened a few doors for me. I’ve discovered that there is a very easy way to make the everyday parts of my life more enjoyable and rewarding. One of the things that Tolle stresses the most in his book is the importance of living in the present. It’s amazing how often we find ourselves pondering the future or reminiscing in the past. If you can task yourself to becoming consciously aware of this every time it happens, you’ll see that it is a very usual way people cope with life’s challenges.

But according to Tolle, there is a better way to live your life. I decided to take his advice and noticed immediately that I’m less stressed and in fact more interested in things that were once redundant and nonsensical. The book suggests that every time you find yourself thinking about the future, to remove yourself from that train of thought and instead focus on your present state of being. Don’t concern yourself over things that you may or may not be able to control and instead put your energy into beingFeel the blankets on your legs when you lie in bed before falling asleep; savour the food you are about to eat at dinner time; pay attention to your pulse and the freshness of everything around you. Become one with the music in your headphones. How do you feel at this very moment? You will find that doing this on a regular basis will lead you to seeing the world in a much different way. Focus on just being.

One example Tolle gives in his book is of walking up flights of stairs. It’s something that we all do on a somewhat regular basis, and it’s a taxing experience. But instead of dreading doing this, or avoiding it altogether, Tolle suggests that you embrace it. Pay special attention to each individual step. Focus on your breathing. Think about how you feel. Set small goals for yourself and put all of your mental energy into the process. When you reach the top of the staircase you will feel like you have truly accomplished something, and that this was something worth doing. You will have arrived at some state of self fulfilment which is truly rewarding.

Similarly Tolle acknowledges that we are often faced with negative thoughts about things. When you find yourself dreading a certain scenario, he suggests separating yourself from that mindset. Create a different identity. Disassociate yourself from those negative thoughts. Convince yourself that this isn’t you who is thinking these things. When you can release these negative feelings and tell yourself that these do not reflect your true outlook of the world, you will feel a great sense of relief.

I know sometimes these habits are hard to break. I know that few people like to take advice about how to live their lives. But once in a while it is a good thing to try something different and see how it works. I’ve found that living in the moment and really coming to terms with the way things are right now is a much more gratifying way to live. What do you think?

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Once in a while we are all pulled together by a common cause. Case in point: the Ottawa Senators. What explanation is there that an entire city, indeed one of the most multicultural and diverse cities in Canada, can be pulled together so tightly in such a short period of time? And seemingly so easily…

Such is the power of sport. We are a proud city, us Ottawans. While we are individually so different and come from so many different places and upbringings, we have this wonderful hockey team that reminds us of how we are, in fact, unified.

It was a truly inspirational year. The city adopted the role of the underdog from the very beginning. We weren’t supposed to accomplish anything. We squeaked into the playoffs by the skin of our teeth and forced the conference favourite Rangers to a 7-game series, won by a single goal on the back of sure to be Vezina trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist.

I don’t mean to echo what every newspaper will report in the coming days. But I do feel compelled to mention the emotional high that this team has imposed on the city. They are the one constant in a time of uncertainty for some; a staple in the lives of many who have lived here for a long time. They showed perseverance and passion that everyone should strive to replicate in their lives every single day. The magic power of togetherness is something that should not be overlooked.

I am proud of my team and of my city. We handled this loss with humility. Let’s all remember to be good neighbors even when the season has come to a close. Stay classy, Canada.

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Slowly, buds are coming out on the trees. It’s nature’s reminder to us that there is still an innate desire to live and thrive in this world, polluted as it is with destruction and negative thoughts. Yet I still manage to think that if we were all in a position where our lives were on the line, we would fight to the end to preserve it. I sure would. I have so much to lose and yet so much still to gain.

This morning my friend was telling me how she loves this time of year, when you can still see the skeletal limbs of the trees underneath the sprouting buds of their bony branches. I asked her why she felt this way, especially since most prefer the red, orange and yellow canvas outlining autumn-time highways. “It’s about waking up,” is what she told me.

She put it into such human terms. Waking up, something we all do each day. But have you ever wondered if the trees want to come back each year? Would you wake up each day knowing that you would be discarded for several months of the year? The only time anybody really notices trees anyway is when they bud in the spring and when they dud in the fall. They might make it into a painting or two, but has there ever been a painting worth mentioning in which a single tree was the focal point?

I wonder about all the things these trees have seen. All the unspeakable crimes in long forgotten, out of sight forests. All the blossoming romances on inviting park benches. These trees have looked on as neighbourhoods were built all around them while their siblings were being torn down, replaced by shopping malls and parking lots. Weeks without water and weeks without sun. Chaperones to lost animals with nowhere left to go. With so many branches but no ability to swat at the dogs who urinate without the slightest regard on them.

It’s a bleak existence, a tree might tell you. And yet each year they come back to life. Maybe my friend was right. Maybe it’s all about waking up.

I want to live with that same drive to come back when I feel forgotten.