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Endings and Beginnings
by Nick P. Patras M.S.
As we near the end of another semester and another academic year, I find myself reviewing that imaginary list of things I’ve accomplished, things I wish I had accomplished, and most importantly, things I wish had been on my radar screen of importance. As a counselor, I frequently tell my client “don’t should on yourself” because it is easy to be one’s harshest critic. I firmly believe that our lives are about experience, learning, growing, stretching beyond self imposed barriers, and in some cases, healing from life’s hurts. Pretty straight-forward, right? If it were that easy, there would likely be no need for mental health professionals.
For many, this ending of the semester represents the close of a freshman year and the first time of being away from home, parents, high school friends, and the comfort of a familiar way of life. For others, the ending of a senior year and graduation represents the ending of the experience of college and the beginning of full time employment, added responsibility, and a yet unchartered way of life. It seems fitting to take a few moments to assess ones place in this higher education process and perhaps a reevaluation of one’s personal goals.
Counselors and Psychologists often work with a construct of personality known as the Big Five personality traits or the Five Factor Model. Essentially the model articulates five distinct measures of personality which include: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. A closer look at each of the personality traits may be a good roadmap for the college experience, regardless if you are just completing your freshman year or graduation is merely weeks away.
Openness to experience is said to reflect the degree of “intellectual curiosity, creativity…and describes the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent, and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine.” Conscientiousness is about self-discipline, aim for achievement, planning, organization and dependability. Extraversion is about cultivating ones personal energy, positive emotions, assertiveness, sociability as well as seeking interaction and stimulation with others. Agreeableness is about a tendency to compassionate and cooperative behavior rather than operating from suspicion and antagonism. Finally, Neuroticism, which may seem more like a negative trait, is about the ability to experience unpleasant emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and depression while maintaining a degree of emotional stability and impulse control.
So how do these personality traits fit into a review of one’s college experience? Has your experience at college been about stimulating your curiosity, creativity, and imagination or do you find it easier to be closed off. Have you demonstrated the skill of being self-disciplined or do you find it easy to get distracted and put assignments and projects off until the very last minute? Have you mastered the trait of extraversion by reaching out to make new friends, to be positive, to talk to others outside your normal circle of friends? How do you include the trait of agreeableness into your daily routine? Do you look for opportunities to be compassionate and cooperative or do you put up barriers by being suspicious and antagonistic? Lastly, can you express your negative emotions and draw upon a reserve of impulse control and emotional stability?
Each person is a work in progress. We all are doing the best we can to grow and learn, each at our own unique pace. For some, the journey is a steep incline with precipitous detours along the way, while others seem to move through life effortlessly. Everyone can take the Big Five personality traits and use them as a roadmap for living life.
Foster the art of approaching life with curiosity rather than judgment. It makes the journey much more pleasant.
Be compassionate to everyone that crosses your path. We don’t have to agree with them, but we can still be compassionate and cooperative while maintaining our boundaries. Perhaps more importantly, be compassionate with yourself.
Learn to be self-disciplined early in life. It will allow you to accomplish any goal you set for yourself.
Be sociable even if you tend to be more of an introvert. Most every person responds to a smile, a kind word, or a friendly gesture.
- Express even the most difficult emotions like anger and anxiety. Master the art of emotional stability and expand your emotional vocabulary. We have a range of emotions and it is healthy to express them appropriately.
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