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MIT student blogger Stanley G.

Mirrors by Stanley G.

Because reflection is not just that image you see of yourself in the morning, or that song from Mulan.

Fun fact about me, on days when I don’t have much to do, especially late at night after watching a couple episodes of my favorite TV show and curling up with a cup of tea, I sometimes like to just sit around and reflect on things. If you do any sort of leadership training program, much like GEL, you’ll do reflections a lot, and it might take a while to figure out why they’re actually important, but you will. In fact, learning how to give an honest assessment of myself is probably one of the most important things I’ve learned from GEL thus far.

So, as I sit here having burned the midnight oil already, you’ll get to hear a couple of my thoughts about last semester.

To be honest, I had tried to write this post several times over winter break, but I wasn’t particularly getting anywhere. In fact, I wasn’t particularly interested in doing a whole lot of anything over winter break at all. And by not doing anything, I mean I REALLY did not want to do anything except sleep, play video games, and occasionally be social. Previous winter breaks have seen me reading books, exploring how scholarly my future can be, or looking at internships to apply for the summer, among other pseudo productive things.

But no, I was that spent from this semester.

It annoyed me at first, but as I have previously expounded upon, I eventually embraced the fact that I needed that break.

I’ve been telling people that my emotions this semester would be best characterized as a damped sine wave. I had really high highs at the beginning of the semester – my UROP was going really well and I realized that I belonged in my major (believe me, this made me feel good) – and I had really low lows (largely due to personal issues, and, to make matters worse, my grades took a dive). By the time thanksgiving rolled around, I had mostly stabilized out, so it looked like things were on the up and up again.

Now what?

After what I went through, I think a lot of people would be content with sweeping what happened under the rug and start the semester with a clean slate.

You CAN, but that doesn’t help you improve. In fact, that’s kind of what I did after last spring after I thought I had a hard semester. AND IT GOT WORSE.

Thus, in the spirit of improvement, I did quite a bit of serious reflection over the final weeks of the semester and over winter break.

There are four questions I ask myself when reflecting:

What went really well?

I got back in the habit of exercising, I completed a UROP, and I actually did pass all of my classes.

What went really badly?

I was very terrible at keeping all self-imposed deadlines, more so than usual; I was consistently over-stressed, which negatively affected how I interact with people and my internal motivation, as well as rendered me unable to put as much effort into some things that I really wanted to put effort into.

Why did the things that went bad go bad?

I started off with an unrealistic view of how much time I needed to allocate to things and, at first, was evaluating myself in a relatively dishonest manner. Failing to recognize early that I was more stressed out than I should be also did me no favors.

So what can I do to improve?

Do less; be more honest with myself when reflecting on my performance in individual tasks; get more organized so I’m more likely to do things on time; don’t be afraid to change something about my schedule that isn’t working; reflect more often.

The things I can do to improve aren’t large tasks by any means. I spend a lot of time thinking to myself anyway, and thanks to our lovely administration, dropping a class takes no time at all (if I so have to do that next semester). But, as many of my fellow students could tell you, it’s very easy to lose track of things when you’re living life p-set to p-set.

The best thing you can do after you reflect is to be as serious as possible when doing so, jot down some key things that you can do to improve, and then do them! You can even refer back to your old reflections and see what progress you’ve made after a few weeks.

The first step is making that conscious effort. Even if it’s just one thought that you write down, it could save you a lot of grief in the long run from repeating the same mistakes. It might not work the first time, and it certainly won’t be easy, but I figure giving it a chance to succeed is better than doing nothing.

Lucky for me in GEL, we reflect after every class session. I don’t think I realized until recently how powerful of a tool that actually is.

This week I get a whole week of GEL in the form of ESD.054 (8 hours a day actually), so I’ll let you know how that goes.

I’d like to leave you with a quote that one random architecture student said to her professor, Ted Mosby, the main character of one my favorite TV shows.

“Doesn’t being scared let you know you’re on to something important?”

Yes, yes it does. I am scared for the next semester and for the rest of IAP. But, especially after reflecting on things and making solid steps in improving myself, I couldn’t be more excited that I’ll be going forward in the right direction.