It feels overused, the constant expression that “this is a crazy time”. Due to the escalation of COVID-19 cases in Australia, we saw the closure of the ANU Campus, the transition to online learning and the ban on all non- essential travel. This pandemic has affected every single one of us and the long-term ramifications of this epidemic are yet to present themselves fully.
On a personal note, the recession, lockdown isolation and uncertainty surrounding this semester has been extremely hard hitting. Before a new year begins, I always spend time trying to visualise the year ahead. My imagined version of 2020 and the unfortunate reality stark contrasts of one another. A week before leaving, my exchange program was cancelled and the numerous housing applications, scholarship grants and course approvals I had gathered meticulously for the past year became instantly redundant. Exchange was to be an experience that would challenge my identity and push me far outside my realm of familiarity. Though I did not go on exchange, this semester has been truly formative in a way that I did not anticipate. Without the constant barrage of social events, I was forced to spend more time alone, reflecting on my thoughts.
I believe there is the blurring of lines between who you truly are as a person, who your friends know you to be and how you want to present yourself and move through this world. I’ve always thought of this in terms of a Venn diagram, where some elements overlap while others stand independent.
When I think about how I wanted to be perceived by others I picture that girl. You know the one. She is smart, talented and independent. She balances work, gets straight HD’s, gyms 4 times a week and is at every party. Not just that though. She moves through this world gracefully and with ease.
It’s a strange exercise to map out the type of person you strive to be. Many elements of my “ideal” are simply residuals of where I place value and the characteristics of people close to me that I hold in high esteem. While I do not believe there is any fault with presenting oneself in this manner or wanting to, I do believe it can incur a missed opportunity. I do not want to be a part of a culture in which women are expected to dilute our successes and perpetuate the idea that our achievements are easy. Our achievements reflect our time and hard work. Freely expressing the energy poured into our projects allows others to appreciate the result, and recognising the difficulties we faced along the way in no way diminishes the achievement. In fact, I would argue that the opposite is true. My favourite autobiographies are those in which a person can rise above circumstance and personal difficulties. The most insightful interviews I have seen are those in which a person has achieved something unique, has been challenged or funnelled their energy fervently and deeply into an area they are passionate about.
I found this semester exceedingly difficult. It was challenging and isolating. For the first time, I felt as though I lacked motivation and purpose. What helped me was seeing the many open and honest discussions about mental health during the pandemic. Within my personal friendship groups, I gained comfort through commonality and the vulnerability of my friends; not the constant highlight reels on social media or the purposeful omission of their struggles.
Growing up in the digital age, social media is so heavily integrated within our lives, it feels inescapable. It is our voice; it allows us to interact and share our lives with others, revisit old memories and stay informed with current events. While social media is a useful and familiar extension of our daily lives, the idealised and carefully curated posts which saturate our news feeds are not an accurate depiction of reality and can distort our image of normalcy. Moving forward, I challenge myself to be just as willing to share my difficulties as I am my successes and to be more intentional of how I do or do not choose to use my social media platforms. I recognise the power of my voice and my actions and the effect they can have on others. While I don’t owe the world this, I am so thankful for the strong women in my life who have revolutionised my definition of an “It Girl”. I want to take every opportunity to portray the best, honest and cohesive version of myself to others, as they have done for me.