The Fresh Start conference logo. Caption: A fresh start to 2019.

Having a Fresh Start

"You're struggling with this because it is hard." This was one the things that stuck with me from last weekend. I attended the Fresh Start Conference, an annual one-day event dedicated to getting students back on their feet after a rough semester. It's not often that people acknowledge the difficulty of being a university student in such a succinct way: hearing it actually makes me want to shout, "I know, right?!" to the heavens. I honestly wish I attended Fresh Start back in my first year. Let me tell you why.
The Fresh Start conference logo. Caption: A fresh start to 2019.
A fresh start to 2019
First off, there are sessions and panels on just about everything. The day started with a two-part talk on resilience, then shifted to discussions on neuroplasticity (the ways that the brain can change). After that, there was a student-led panel, a talk on essential university skills, and a free-writing exercise. And as a bonus, there was tons of food and several prizes to be won (I got a gift card, yay!). Fresh Start also gives you down-to-earth advice. Not just little snippets like, "Just learn to manage your time better!" All of the talks broke things down in ways that made sense and can be easily incorporated into a hectic student lifestyle. For example: instead of being told to study more, a Learning Strategist pointed out ways to break down the studying process so that your brain is actually retaining the info. He shared a helpful method called SQ4R (Survey, Question, Read, Respond, Recall, and Review). This method was equated to choosing to fight many duck-sized horses instead of one horse-sized duck, since you're breaking things down into smaller, more manageable portions.
A little rubber ducky. Caption: Fight me. Quack Quack
But the biggest reason as to why I'd recommend Fresh Start is because it feels, for lack of a better word, humanizing. As someone who feels ungrateful whenever they want to vent about university, it helps to hear someone mention that optimism doesn't need to be trying to be happy 24/7 or constantly looking for a silver-lining. You're allowed to be frustrated and anxious. You're allowed to acknowledge that being a student is hard. The biggest lesson I'm walking away with for myself is the value of having a "growth mindset": focusing on learning opportunities and being adaptive, instead of believing that failure and success are determined by innate characteristics. One of the steps towards having a growth mindset is just validating that things are difficult sometimes. Remembering that you can unlearn unhelpful thought traps and identifying what's in your ability to change are a few other steps. And maybe, this is what a fresh start is. Sure, it's the planning and the implementation of strategies, but maybe it's also a mindset. Maybe a fresh start is realizing that difficulty isn't permanent, and that we all have the ability to wipe the slate clean and start over.

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