Last fall I decided I wasn’t quite ready to be a sophomore, so I did what used to be unimaginable and didn’t go back to school.

I took the semester off, and it was one of the best decisions I could’ve made at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I go to school. I just needed a break to really figure out what my purpose was in going to college and what I wanted to get out of it in the long run.

Contrary to popular belief, college isn’t just a time to sit in the library and study the days away to get those A’s so eventually you can get a killer job in the real world. It’s also a time to find yourself, meet new people from all over the world, and experience everything your college town has to offer. I wanted to make sure I really made the most of my time at school before the four years passed me by. So I put college on hold for a little.

I like to think that growing up, I was a pretty upbeat person. I had a generally happy life. But after taking my semester off, I knew I had been living it all wrong. I wasn’t taking full advantage of everything I could and my outlook on life was not what it had the potential to be. I have a feeling there are a bunch more people out there like this too, they just don’t know it yet.

Part of my time off was spent at a 10 day meditation retreat. I think I was looking for some sort of epiphany and for some reason had decided I would get it by going to the retreat.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I ended up staying for only 4 days of it. Every day was spent by getting up at 4am, meditating in silence for ~10 hours of the day.

Breakfast and lunch were mixed in, but we had no dinner (I know what you’re thinking: HOW?!?!). No electronics, reading, or writing materials were allowed, and absolutely no communication with any of the others who were there was permitted. I also couldn’t workout which drove me completely INSANE and was part of the reason I felt I had to leave.

For anyone who knows me, they know I’m very antsy and love to be active, so the whole “sitting still for one hour increments, focusing on nothing but my breathing” thing was extremely difficult. Granted, nobody said it would be easy, and it’s not like I was the only one struggling. But I felt that it just wasn’t right for me to stay. When people asked me why I left, I just explained that it was really hard, and not something I was able to do until the end. What I realize now is that I 100% was able to do it, but I just gave up. I turned the potentially positive experience into a negative one before I’d given it a full chance, and that made all the difference on how I handled the difficulty of the situation.

When I got home, I was so happy to be able to talk, make food whenever I wanted, and workout. The little things in life became more noticeable while the more superficial things, such as everything on my phone, became less noticeable. I started to try new things, take more chances, and worry much less about the outcome of new situations.

I learned that life isn’t really as bad or scary or stressful as we all make it out to be. What’s the point in getting upset over a messed up food order, a bad grade, unexpected weather, or anything else that doesn’t go as planned? You can’t always control what happens in life, but you can control how you react to it. I’m not sure if going on the retreat was actually the thing that taught me this lesson, but some lightbulb in my head turned on during my semester off, and it’s stayed on since then.

There is such a clear difference in my outlook on life and my personality. Now, I approach everything with the idea that no matter what happens I will find something positive from the experience. I also don’t look back and wish I could change something I did or didn’t do, because wishing to change what you can’t doesn’t accomplish anything. If I think I could have handled a situation or challenge better or differently, I just keep it in mind for next time. I also try to find something beneficial out of said circumstance.

Here’s a perfect example of how I’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff:

Last week, I went to a concert at Yankee Stadium with my brother. After an hour and a half of waiting for it to begin, a man came over the loudspeaker saying the concert was delayed until it was safe enough to go on (it was drizzling and potentially going to thunder later in the night). All around us, you could hear grunts, swearing, people saying this ruined their night, how annoying it all was, etc. But for me and my brother, none of that happened. Instead, we started singing what songs we knew by the artist, definitely getting some weird looks in the process by the grumpy concert-goers. We walked around the stadium and kept busy. Complaining about the concert being delayed would not have made the artist come on any faster, and it for sure wouldn’t have made me any happier.

I never ended up hearing anyone sing that night (except for myself and my brother, of course) but I still left satisfied and happy. I got to spend time with my brother and people watch a bit along the way. If that same incident had happened a year ago, it would have completely ruined my night and potentially the week because even after it was over, I would have complained about it to others. It most likely would have made other people annoyed and unhappy too, because of all the whining I would have done.

Having this new and refreshed mentality has made me much happier, especially when I went back to school last semester. Nothing is as big of a deal as you make it out to be, and the world does not end from things not going how you planned. Once I realized that I could actually control the way I experienced day-to-day situations, they all became that much better.

My brother took my advice — here he is loving his date night, even with a broken neck!

So the advice that comes out of all this rambling (yes, I was going to get to it eventually): Always find the bright side. It may not be what you originally hoped it would be (like watching an amazing artist at a concert) but it will make every experience you have a positive one, regardless of its actual outcome. Next time you begin to get upset about something, pause first. Think about what you can do to turn it into something you could be smiling about instead. I guarantee your quality of living will dramatically improve (or your money back!)

Check out these articles too:

Dear College Freshman…It’s OK That You’re Lonely
Overcome Your Self Doubt 
Stress Busters & Benefits
8 Important Lessons on Wellness From My Freshman Year

About The Author

Jenna Bernard is a current Cornell student studying nutrition and exercise science. She loves all things fitness including running, lifting, swimming, crossfit, high intensity interval training, and jumping on the bed. When she's not cooking or lifting, Jenna enjoys making things for friends and family and taking advantage of the outdoors, hiking in particular. She's looking forward to spreading the joys of fitness!

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