After moments of impact, when experiencing a situation of uncomfortableness and physical unawareness, our thoughts directly affect our personal perspective on the world around us. 

It was sunny and 75 degrees in Ann Arbor as I walked to Literati on a busy Wednesday afternoon to complete a professor’s requirement. I don’t usually make it down to that side of town, and the new places and faces I discover always amaze me. As I saw Literati in the distance, the little shops I had never seen before commanded my full attention. Enthralled by the figurines in the windows of a new-age vintage shop, without warning, I was shoved by an old man walking past me. He clearly saw me walking down the street, and instead of getting out of my way, he decided to disrupt my pleasant stroll and literally knocked me off my feet.

I immediately said, “Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!” as if it were my fault that we ran into each other. I looked back and saw him shaking his head in reaction to the stupid college student he perceived me to be. I will never be sure if I was the cause of this unpleasant physical encounter because I truly was not paying attention. I contemplated why this man did not step out of his way and was so frustrated that it shook me to my core. I felt awful walking away, thinking that it was my fault he ran into me.

Looking back, I can’t change the fact that he ran into me so abruptly. I found myself immediately thinking as I got to Literati, that I should not let this one man’s horrible action ruin my day. I realized that my response to this telling incident is far more important than overreacting about it. What could I do after the fact? Nothing. It wasn’t worth stressing over.

The experience I had that day on East Washington Street was a very culminating experience for me. Standing in the essay section at Literati, I found books that shared experiences of hurt, trauma and depression. After reading the blurbs about the authors’ experiences writing their books, and what they were about, things began to become very clear for me. These authors shared their wisdom about their journey through hard times. And the messages, no matter the background of the author or the genre of book, always came back to the same clear message: The only thing we have control over in this life is ourselves. We must take action and educate ourselves about making good choices, and reacting to tough situations in a way that is productive and meaningful.

College is a time when we often feel that everything we do is essentially for someone else. I have to study to do well, or else my parents will cut me off. I have to join at least two extracurriculars so that a job recruiter will think I am involved. I have to go to the career fair because if I don’t, Sally will get a better job than me, and she isn’t even smart! Do I go to the fraternity party so I can prove to my friends that I’m definitely not “lame” and can have a good time, or do I take care of myself and sleep?

A lot of the times I have to ask myself, “Is what I am doing what I really want to be doing?” Life is too short to live it for someone else. Doing things in spite of others wastes time and energy you could be devoting to a true passion. When you have the ability to control your life and still choose to focus it on pleasing others rather than yourself, you are going to walk away from these four years with regret.

Dwelling on the moments we cannot control is truly unproductive. So instead of getting frustrated by the student that just hit you on their bike, or took your seat in lecture, remember that our reactions to these situations are the only things we can control.

If we constantly react to things in a way that is outlandish and uncontrollable, we are doing a disservice to ourselves. Instead of consciously choosing to focus your thoughts in a productive way that brings awareness to the situation, you are choosing to instigate your opponent and, again, use your hard-earned energy on someone else that could be better spent caring for yourself.

We all came to college with the intent to leave here with a new set of skills and to be able to think critically is one of the many things we will take away from a college education. However, we have to remember to think critically even if we are not overtly prompted to do so. We must assess the situation, think about what is in our best interest and focus our thoughts on our own reactions. At the end of the day, the only person you can control is yourself.

Michelle Phillips can be reached at mphi@umich.edu.

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