I hope you had a stellar break and spent time with loved ones. During the holidays, I ate lots of yummy food, learned how to play chess, and did a bunch of skiing. I also organized my file folders on my laptop, reviewed some of my winter courses, and reset my laptop so that I can have a clean slate for next semester.

Do you have any New Year resolutions? Or did you reflect on the previous semester and think about what went well or what could be improved?

I’m going to be honest – I did not spend a lot of time reflecting over the break; I was busy in a whirlwind of travelling (my usual 4-hour drive home got extended to a 7-hour drive due to the horrible weather), relaxing, and not thinking about school. As I think about it now, it was a nice and satisfying break because I didn’t think much about school. It was important to me to clear my head of academic-related things and just to focus on myself and family.

During my drive from Ottawa to Kingston the day before second semester started, I plumbed the depths of my brain to resurface my school mindset. It was then (and now, as I’m writing this) that I began thinking and reflecting about my previous and upcoming semester.

What went well?

My workload: I was at a nice balance of school and extracurricular activities. If I got too bored then I would get lazy, but if I got too busy then I would get overwhelmed. After two years of university, I’m nailing my perfect balance of saying yes and saying no. I had 6 courses last semester, 1 (semi-demanding) club, 1 part-time job, and 1 extracurricular activity. This semester, I have 5 courses, 2 intramural sports teams, and the same club, part-time job, and extracurricular activity.

Saying no to FOMO: If you were to ask first-year me if I felt pressured to go to some conference, do some networking event, or start my homework/assignments the same time my classmates did (whether that’d be earlier or later or some time inconvenient to me), I would say yes. At that time, I didn’t really know what was good or best for me. I just followed the crowd. As time passed and I gained more experience, I slowly learned that certain conferences are boring, individual networking can be more beneficial than networking events, and I should start schoolwork when it’s best for me. I became comfortable with saying “No, I’m not doing that,” without feeling like I’m behind. A lot of that confidence and lack of wondering “what if I did do that” is attributed to just getting a little bit wiser and feeling better in my own skin.

What could be improved?

Self-discipline: Last semester I had three 8:30 classes, and on some (most) occasions, I missed them because I wanted to sleep. This semester, I have four 8:30 classes, and I aim to be self-disciplined and go to all of them. I watched this YouTube video about trying to wake up early, and it mentioned some steps that I’m going to try implementing: set intentions the night before and drink a big glass of water right when I wake up. I think having a routine is crucial, so currently on my notepad is

  • 6:30am: Wake up and drink water
  • 6:40am: Change out of pyjamas and brush teeth
  • 6:50am: 10-minute stretch
  • 7:10am: Breakfast and coffee
  • 8:00am: Leave for class

Having a 6:30am wake-up time looks unlikely right now considering that I woke up at 9 or 10am during the holidays, but I like routine and I enjoy the fact that I’ll be proud of myself for waking up early. I’ll shoot for the moon (6:30am) and if I miss (maybe), at least I’ll land among the stars (before 7am).

Creativity and being okay with failing:

These are two peas in a pod in Engineering. To solve complex problems, you must find creative solutions. To find creative solutions, you must be ready to fail, because it’s inevitable that you’ll try one solution and find that it’s wrong before you find the right answer.

I’ve always had an issue with being okay with failing, even though I know it’s necessary to learn. Since I was a child, perfectionism has been ingrained in me. It’s been difficult to unlearn. For example, I’m afraid to play chess with the fear of making the wrong move and losing (which drops my chess ranking). In academics, I’m afraid to start answering problems unless I know the answer. When I type that, it sounds extremely silly. I know that as students, we learn by attempting over and over again. Plus, especially in my Math and Engineering program, we need to be creative with our proofs to solve complex problems which generally means multiple attempts with different methods. I don’t know why I’m so scared of trying. Maybe it’s because I think I’ll continue being wrong, but I know that’s not true. The more I try, the better I’ll be. And the more I fail, the closer I am to finding the right answer.

When I went skating over the holidays, I saw kids skate as fast as they can, fall, and then get back up in an instant. I forgot how pure we were as children, unmolded by expectations, and all we wanted to do was to try, fail, and try again. I’m slowly trying to integrate this child-like fiery spirit back in myself, and that’s what my 2023 will likely be shaped by; an eagerness to take in the world and a willingness to fall, knowing that I can get back up again.

Go get ‘em Gaels. Let’s make this your year.

- Liyi

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