Last week was my 24th birthday…
I know it sounds ridiculous, but 24 seems like quite a lot. I remember when I was 12 and I thought to myself – “well, 17 is the oldest I ever want to grow”. After that I thought 21 is pretty cool too. Now it seems that time can slow down. Everyone around me is getting older and life is changing. From a teenager to a real adult.
What did the last year bring for me? Well, I got accepted to my dream school, I graduated with cum laude, I moved from country to another country, I worked up to 16 hours long days at unpaid internships, I said goodbye to my Estonian friends but made new friends again in Paris, I had to say final goodbye to one of my dearest family members, I was homesick for snow and black bread, I was losing my mind at school, I missed hanging out with my dog and my family, I had breakfast at Mount Kilimanjaro, I had dinner at the Eiffel tower, I learned not to be a perfectionist, I found out that I will be moving to Cairo, I learned a new language, I fell in love with an amazing man.
For the purpose of some self-reflection, I will write down some of the most important realisations that I had during this past year.
1. Learn to say no. Every now and then I found myself in a situation where I was breaking under stress due to abnormal amount of tasks I had promised to undertake. And it was all because I was saying yes to everything. I felt guilty when I said no to projects, no to work, no to people. I felt I need to take every single opportunity that I am given in order to make sure that I am climbing the career ladder fast enough. The reality is that this will not do you any good. Prioritise things, figure out what is more important and do it well. And while you are doing it, make sure you find time for yourself to read a book, watch a series, go for a walk or paint something. Whatever makes you happy.
2. Do not be afraid to speak your mind. I have learned that people really like honest conversations and feedback. I do not mean here that you should go around and say mean things to people, but sincere conversations always go a long way. I find it often that people are afraid to praise people. However, saying a good word after someone’s group project was done really well, can really boost their confidence and yours too. Plus they will remember you with a kind word. Same about criticism. Surely not everyone will agree with you. Nevertheless, when you base your arguments on decent sources, at least they will respect you for having an opinion. I always say “only dead fish go with the flow”.
3. Keep your mind in the future. I know some may disagree with me on this one, but this has worked out great for me (first and foremost regarding professional life). I never do anything big without thinking how this works out in the bigger picture. I have more than a year to graduate, but I am already slowly thinking where I should apply for work. Planning works. You need to map out your ambitions and your dreams in your way because oftentimes they require multiple steps. These things don’t happen overnight. Many people have written to me, saying how I am so lucky that I have gotten so far in my life. But none of this is a coincidence. I have worked very hard, mapped by strengths and weaknesses, planned out the steps that it takes to reach my goal. I am still not quite sure what the final final goal is, but at least I am moving towards some direction.
4. Let go of the past. I don’t know about you guys, but I find my mind often wandering to past mistakes and old wrongdoings. Sometimes I go to bed and I swear it’s like a mixtape going on, thinking about what I could have said or done differently. I know it’s difficult to force yourself to give up on these thoughts, but it makes no sense to keep them with you. Learn from it and move on.
5. You don’t need to be perfect about everything. This was one of my biggest struggles in the past year. I have always had this pressure in the back of my mind that I need to be first in the class, I need to get the first prize, I need to get the best results in everything. And in Estonia it wasn’t so difficult – I graduated with best exam results from high school and with cum laude from Uni of Tartu. But here it’s different. And this is teaching me a lesson. Sciences Po is pretty much a group of best over-achievers from all over the world. And our university gives us a ‘ranking’ for each class we take. We are constantly put off against each other. And I was working myself to death with attending all these classes, writing 100 pages of policy papers, working part-time, teaching at an Estonian school and running an association. And of course, everything had to be to a perfect level. Nope. Is it really so necessary to get the best grades in class? Learning is for myself. I will do it for myself, without comparing myself to others. If I need to beat someone, then I will beat myself.
6. Understand your privilege in the world. I know I always say that I have worked hard to get here, and this is true. However, it is also true that I have had it so much better than millions of people in this world. I am from a developed European country, I am not part of any minority groups, I am more or less healthy, I grew up in a whole family. Not to mention I have never gone through anything like war or other gruesomeness’ that many kids in the world suffer through. Now once you get to the point to understand that you are actually really lucky and you had a pretty decent starting point in the world, you can start to use your relative privilege to help others around you. Sure, part of our lives is ours to make, but I believe that a big part of is a consequence of what you were born in.
Here’s to hoping that the next year will be even better. Soon I will be reporting back from the Pyramids of Giza, working for my dream – World Health Organization. 🙂 I have really found global health to be my new passion.