What Have You Learned So Far?

Amy SandlerWorking on a college campus, perhaps it would be natural to discuss what I have learned throughout my studies. But what I’ve really learned so far is that it’s actually the day-to-day experiences outside of the classroom that shape me the most. Here’s a snapshot of what I have learned:

Express my feelings:
If we hold back our true feelings because expressing them may cause additional work, the feelings will likely linger and what may have been a minor situation will only escalate and ultimately become even more work. Picture a laundry bag and each negative encounter is an article of clothing. If you don’t clean the dirty laundry, it just sits there and more dirty laundry piles on top. If you take care of your dirty clothes, however, you can feel good about putting it away for the next use. When I express my feelings with students or loved ones, we usually grow closer from the conversation and we all feel better.

Patience and Persistence :
As much as I would love to address situations as soon as possible, I have learned that introspection doesn’t come natural for everyone. Some of us were raised not to think about our feelings or that sharing our feelings is a sign of weakness. I have learned that with a lot of patience the conversations will happen. I’ve also learned that I am one person in an environment where many people have many needs. When I find that balance between patience and persistence, perhaps it may not be immediate, but eventually those needs tend to be met.

Be true to myself:
This lesson came from a long, introspective and quite painful process because of what society dictated to be “normal”. I came to the realization that the person who I wanted to create a family with and spend the rest of my life with was another woman and now my beloved partner of 11 years. Had I not done the hard work to preserve what I knew was right for me, I would not be living the authentic, meaningful life that I am thankful to live every day.

Play more, worry less:
After two of her sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 30’s, my partner learned that she inherited a genetic mutation that increases her risk of developing certain cancers up to 87%. Two and a half years ago she was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer just after her 33rd birthday. As hard as this road has been, I try to remember that worrying will not change the outcome. But what I can do is create incredible moments every day! The best memories come when I make the time to play. Back to the dirty laundry that I mentioned earlier, I am going to contradict myself when I say this but I have also learned that it’s also okay to let the real laundry pile up. If in lieu of doing a chore you have a great few hours doing something important to you, you’ll get to the pile of laundry eventually and the truth is that you’ll likely still have something to wear. Who is really going to know if you are wearing dirty clothes anyway? I would take an awesome memory-making, relationship enhancing experience any day over folding clothes or doing any other tedious chore.

Make time for loved ones:
Don’t wait for a tragedy in your life to build or even repair relationships with those that you care about. I recently read an article which highlighted the top five regrets of people who are dying. One of people’s biggest regrets was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends”. As a student shared with me this week, technology such as smart phones, twitter, and facebook that were created to keep us connected can often be a major source of disconnect today. I have learned that in the best of times and worst of times, the journey is always richer when it’s shared with someone who I feel emotionally connected to.

It’s difficult to sum up what I have learned in a blog but the reality is that every day I learn something new. I hope to always have that pile of laundry waiting for me as a reminder of what truly matters in life.


Amy Sandler is the Director of Jewish Campus Life at the Levine Hillel Center at the University of Illinois, Chicago.  Amy is also the Ask Big Questions advisor at University of Illinois.