In this last week leading to finals, I am feeling a plethora of emotions. I am sad because in 14 days I am halfway finished with college. I am happy because in 14 days it’s summer. I am stressed because somehow in two weeks I am supposed to finish three papers and take two exams.
But when I really boil down these emotions, I realize that behind everything, I am afraid.
I am afraid to leave my friends, not just for the summer but also for next semester as I head abroad.
I am afraid to leave Duke. Afraid that I will be forgotten. Afraid that I will not be welcome when I come back.
I am afraid to have an internship in Switzerland, to live in a French-speaking country when I do not speak French.
I am afraid to try new foods, to immerse myself in one culture this summer, another culture in the fall, and then assimilate into Duke culture when I return in the Spring.
I am afraid of the freedom and the restrictions that come with living in a new environment.
I am afraid of staying in touch with family and friends, of growing so much these next nine months that when I return I won’t be the same. That somehow this change won’t be accepted by my old environment. That my Duke identity and involvements will slip from my fingertips. That Duke will move on from me just as I move on from baggage I feel I am having to carry right now.
But then I remember that I have been afraid in the past.
In fact, fear has mostly run my life.
Most of my anxiety stems from a general fear of what, for most people, is just the happenings of daily life.
Fear has dictated my friends, my extracurricular activities, my free time, my commitments, my future plans, my dreams, all of my decisions.
By this I mean that I am afraid to take risks, to fail, to challenge myself to make life-altering decisions. I am afraid of disappointing others, of being someone who I am not, of being someone at all.
I am afraid of letting others down, but more I am afraid of letting myself down. I am afraid of being deemed unworthy, in any and every area. I am afraid of not being the best or the brightest.
Frankly, I think I am afraid of being.
It makes a lot of sense as I sit here writing this. I get anxious when I am just sitting still. I can never justify watching Netflix or taking a few minutes to just look at the world around me and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
Even with taking time to reflect, I only justify it because it produces a piece I can post to the blog.
It’s almost Finals, and there’s a lot of cliché talk about this time of the year. We say we’re all stressed, how we don’t see how we’ll “get it all done”, how it’s the time of coffee and all-nighters, etc etc.
But when I look around, I see right through the stress, right through the overwhelmed and fatigued faces. What I see, instead, is fear.
Because this final stretch of the semester is marked by unprecedented evaluations—countless tests, final exams, papers, and projects. This final stretch of the semester is about the survival of the fittest, the worthy competitors, the most committed. This final stretch of the semester is about not letting anyone down, especially yourself.
And that induces fear because…. What if we don’t measure up?
But behind that fear of not measuring up, there is a deeper fear. And that deeper fear is that we, not just me, we are all afraid to just be. We are afraid to just live, to just try our best, to just do what we feel is right, healthy, important. We are afraid to go against the status quo, to set our own expectations and measures of success. We are afraid to step away from the ridiculous notion that these next two weeks should be spent entirely in the library. We are afraid to realize that these next two weeks are the last two weeks we see a quarter of the people at this school and half of the sophomore class. We are afraid to realize that life is about more than The Final Push, that life is about more than Finishing Strong and instead about Being Strong. We are afraid to realize that our greatest accomplishment is not living up to someone else’s expectations but creating our own and striving, in a healthy and realistic way, to achieve those expectations.
In the next 16 days, I want to do something radical. I want to be there for my friends. I want to spend time with the people who mean so much to me. I want to work out, get eight hours of sleep each night, and take study breaks to walk in the gardens. I want to set the expectation that I don’t sacrifice my health or my relationships for some stupid final assignment. But, most importantly, in these next two weeks, I want to stop being afraid to just be. Because, maybe, if I can do that these next 14 days, then I can do that when I am in Spain, when I am in Switzerland, and when I am back at Duke. And maybe, just maybe, if I stop being afraid, then others can stop being afraid, too.
To college students everywhere: my hope for you is not just that you would find ways to destress during this Finals season. Or that you would find ways to stay healthy during this time. No, my hope is far greater than that. My hope is that you would stop being afraid.