The life lessons I learned by seeing myself through the eyes of others

23 Apr 2021
By Ashlea D., Student at Liverpool John Moores University

For many, university is the first opportunity for independence and a chance to really discover who you want to be.

With this on my mind, I recently had a conversation with one of my flatmates about how we sometimes see ourselves completely differently to how others see us.

A casual chat then spiralled into something much more, and before we knew it, four of us had each created a short survey. It included silly questions such as, ‘if I was an animal, what would I be?’ and ‘what do you think of my cooking?’

Answers mainly focused on how my ever-changing hair colour would point toward me being a chameleon or parrot, but I was quite flattered to be told that I’m more advanced than the average uni student at cooking!

As expected, not everyone took it seriously, but those that did produced some interesting answers, and it was refreshing that everyone sees completely different qualities in each other.

Although the surveys were anonymous, it was quite easy to tell who gave which answers. The most important thing was that it allowed us to be honest with each other, answering questions that we normally wouldn’t think to ask.

The art of stepping back

Despite this being a light-hearted and (dare I say) fun exercise between friends, it highlighted to me the importance of stepping back and looking at yourself less critically. It’s so easy, especially after exam season and results, to view yourself negatively, and overlook the qualities that make you, you.

During stressful times, especially approaching deadlines, everything seems a lot worse than it is, and one small mistake can seem like the end of the world. However, I noticed through my jokey surveys with my friends that not one of them used a negative word to describe me or picked up on any of my own insecurities, which made them seem a lot more insignificant.

One thing I have taken from doing this is to try and think of myself at least once a day in the same way my friends would.

Look for the positives

Although this was only a silly exercise between friends, I think surveys like these are great for starting a conversation about mental health or self esteem, which are both challenging, but important, topics to discuss.

It can be easy to bottle up how you feel, especially at university, as people don’t always know you very well and may not pick up on changes in your mood. Also, it’s hard enough to open up to someone about how you’re feeling, and even more so when you have only just met. But remember, it could just be that someone else feels the exact same and you could help each other out.

Another thing I now do is take notice of all of the feedback I get from lecturers. I always used to focus on the improvement comments in academic feedback and skim read the parts highlighting what was good. But now I thoroughly read both. Not only is it nice to know you’re doing things right, but it’s also beneficial to your self esteem to really let the good feedback sink in.

Don’t believe the stereotype

Now is probably a good time to mention that university isn’t always ‘the best time of your life’ that you’re promised by pretty much everyone. I certainly struggled a lot more than I thought I would with the changes that were thrown on me in September last year.

So when it seemed that everyone was in friendship groups and had found their routine, I found it even harder, as I felt like I was going wrong somewhere. I certainly wasn’t having the best days of my life. However, despite feeling a little bit lost, I threw myself into my work and grabbed every opportunity that was thrown at me, allowing me to settle into a routine of my own.

Feeling more settled now, I really wish I spoke to my flatmates more at the start of the year when I was finding my new life challenging, as they could’ve been feeling the same. This survey game would’ve been a good place to start. In fact, I wish we’d done them several times throughout the year so we could’ve seen how much better we knew each other as time progressed.

Remember, if you’re struggling with anything to do with mental health, self esteem, friendships or change, you can contact your student welfare officer or student services team at your uni. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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I’m currently studying criminology and sociology at Liverpool John Moores University, (my main interest being crime and my favourite city being Liverpool!). In my spare time you’ll probably find me dying my hair a random rainbow shade, watching old festival videos or planning my next adventure.