Should have...Didn't...And That's Ok.
I wrote my last exam of my fourth year at York University on Friday. It should have been my last exam of my undergraduate. I should be attending convocation this year. I should be framing and hanging my degree this winter. I should be applying to graduate programs. I should be…I should be… I should be. But I’m not. I am not graduating this year, because despite having been at York for four years, I am not done my program. And I won’t be done next year, and I’m not even sure I’ll be done the year after that.
At first, I was incredibly depressed by this realization. As my classmates made plans to take grad photos and celebrated handing in final exams and essays, I made plans to take time off of school and work full-time to pay off my student debt. Despite pulling a fantastic average throughout my entire university career, I felt like I’d failed. I had wanted to complete my program in the prescribed four years, and I hadn’t. I hadn’t achieved what I should have.
And then one day I asked myself, “Why are you so caught up in the “should haves?” I had become so absorbed in the way I felt my life was supposed to go, that I wasn’t able to appreciate the way it was unfolding. I was treating my life like a train on a journey with a strict schedule, and bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t getting to every stop on time. But that’s the thing about life, sometimes there are detours, sometimes there are breakdowns, and sometimes you fall off the track. When you get caught up in where you should be, and the fact that you aren’t there yet, you lose sight of where you already are, how far you’ve already come, and the fact that the journey isn’t over yet.
Of course I’m not pleased that I’m not graduating this year, but I’m learning to appreciate this reality. I stopped to think about where I am, how far I’ve come and where I’m going, and my perspective on my situation has completely turned around. Where am I? I am an independent young black woman, with an A average, my own place, a full-time job, and amazing people in my life. How far have I come? I escaped an abusive home life, mended a shaky relationship with my mother, developed a mind and belief system of my own, and boosted my self-esteem significantly. And where am I going? I’m heading hard for success. I know what I want, and I know I can get it. I am going to make every moment of every day count, because I can. I haven’t fallen off the track; I’m just on a detour. My goals and dreams aren’t dashed because I’m not achieving them as quickly or in the way that I wanted to or that others expected me to. They are still there, and I’m still gunning for them.
Whenever you feel that you’re failing because you’re not where you should have been, or not doing what you should have been doing, bear in mind that “should haves” are fabricated. Who is telling you what you should be? If you feel that you don’t measure up to some standard set by someone who doesn’t know who you are or what you’ve been through, remind yourself that their standard does not define you. Don't buy into some fabricated standard of success and take for granted the successes you already have. You decide where you should be, what you should be doing, how you should be living. And if you fall short of your own standards, assess why, forgive yourself, and get back on track. The tracks aren’t always clear and the journey is never smooth, but what matters is that you get where you’re aiming to go, even if it doesn’t happen when or how you wanted it to.