Three years ago, college applications and acceptance letters took up all of the real estate in my mind. I figured that if I sacrificed my free time and pushed myself every day, I would be able to achieve my goals. Late nights and early mornings spent doing homework bore good grades and a glowing resume. The only issue arose when I started to feel burnt out.
I thought that once I got into a good college, I could rest.
While rest is a lovely thought, it appeared to not be a near future goal of mine. After I finally got accepted to my first choice of college, the University of North Carolina, I acquired a new set of goals. Find a roommate. Plan for a pre-med course load. Find a good group of friends. Work to get all A’s in the first semester. “Then, you can rest.”
Well, none of those goals materialized the way I thought. COVID-19 unveiled different plans for me that first year. I ended up moving three times and I only allowed myself to meet a handful of people. I also realized that science was truly not my passion. And I ended up being awful at it. I felt lost, like becoming stuck alone in the dark woods with no flashlight. Rest appeared to be nowhere in sight and burning out seemed like a more tempting possibility.
Just as summer crept in, a new friend told me about her experience as a sleep-away camp counselor in Flat Rock, NC.
The idea of moving away from school and technology seemed like too good of an adventure to pass up. Without much thought, I signed up. That summer, even in the most beautiful natural setting, I found myself still worrying about what to do after summer ended. What classes will I take? Am I wasting my summer at a camp instead of getting an internship?
Our team leader at the camp gave a speech to end of our week-long training. She explained that as counselors, we needed to adopt the mentality, “be where your feet are”. She went on to explain that young adults often have a problem staying in the moment because they constantly think about what they must do next. Her advice encouraged us to use all our attention on the event or task that is given in the moment. She wanted everyone to experience what was right in front of us without worries of the future.
That seemed like an obvious concept to me because I thought I felt aware of what was going on.
However, when camp began, I caught myself playing in the lake with my campers and thinking about where we needed to go next. And after we went there, I thought about whether I will have enough energy to entertain them before dinner in the cafeteria. I lost sleep preparing for the next day because I didn’t want to mess anything up.
The pressure of keeping everyone happy invaded my mind with relentless strength. Sleep-deprived and drained, I realized that I was not present where I needed to be. I had let my thoughts outrun my feet and I struggled to keep up with myself. I knew I needed a change if I wanted to let myself experience life instead of allowing it to happen around me. The team leader’s words echoed in my head as I thought of a solution. I had to be where my feet were to keep from tripping.
When I gave myself the gift to only focus on the moment, I relinquished the control that anticipation held on my thoughts.
I started to be present in my life. This mindset did not make my life magically easier, but I gained the skill to handle experiences when it arrived, rather than being stuck waiting for it to happen. Journaling allowed me to solidify this mindset by documenting each experience as a moment rather than a task. I stopped checking my watch and focused on the feelings I encountered while having fun with my campers. As the summer wrapped up and classes began, I stood determined to bring this mentality with me. I noticed that I paid more attention to the content the professor taught us. At my part-time job, I began to enjoy the tasks my boss gave me because I did not obsess over when my shift will end. These actions bore better grades, a raise at my job, and an overall happier day-to-day attitude. I even picked a major I was passionate about: journalism.
I will not say that worrying about the future is a bad thing. At this stage in my life, a lot may appear uncertain, and it can still feel overwhelming. However, burnout does not feel so close to me anymore and rest does not seem so far away. I found a way to work towards a future and enjoy the day at hand. So, I encourage anyone who finds themselves coasting through life, to find a way to be present in the moment and live with your feet on the ground.