Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
It is hard to wait — particularly for something you so dearly yearn for. It is even harder to prepare and work hard to receive that one thing you will not have, at least at the time you thought was the best to have it. I don’t normally do personal journals, especially on public platforms like this one but after much thought and realizing that I have something great to offer to those who will listen, I thought why not?
In a world driven by status, power, achievement, perfectionism and influence, it’s incredibly easy to lose control over your life. Like most people, I have experienced such a build up of emotions and anxiety, making it difficult for me to keep my head from spinning off its hinges. In this vast space we call the earth, everyone is seeking to belong; and it comes out in different ways: seeking relevance, happiness, love, and success. One thing that cuts across all these is the notion of “need” — the physical, spiritual, psychological, social and emotional dependence on others which is what makes us human. Ironically, we always run away from our inherent nature and feel as though needing another human being is a sign of cowardice. This explains why we no longer have “humans” in our workspaces. The classic “miss independence” sets the standards; supremacy is the new obsession and if you can’t keep up, the exit door is open. We nurture a culture where we have become human doings not human beings. We have to prove ourselves and outsmart everyone in the room but here’s the piece we miss: overtime, being the smartest becomes obsolete; everyone forgets you were the lad that formerly broke records because the new kid on the block took over the baton. Essentially, the culture of scarcity we so fervently build breeds young men and women who never feel enough; men and women who are always lacking no matter what they have or do. Men and women who are constantly running the rat race in an attempt to fill themselves up, feel relevant and would go extra lengths anytime to compromise themselves, their principles and value systems all in the name of contentment. Reality is, we are really just trying to fill a gap in our void being. But how can we ever feel enough if we’ve never known or experienced what it’s like to feel enough in ourselves? How do we know our intrinsic value when all we have attached to our worth is material and unbefitting? How will we ever know what it’s like to be fearfully and wonderfully made when all we’ve ever done to ourselves is demeaning?
It all started last fall, as I was prepping for the hectic period of the year — internship season. Excited and at the same time apprehensive, I always wondered where I would eventually be. Seven months later, my internship was over and I vowed there and then that I was cloned. My life had taken a shift and I was a completely different person who wanted to stay in control and avoid some of the unfortunate experiences I had encountered. Last September, as the year wrapped up, I reflected on my bitter-sweet journey. Nine months ago when I sat resolutions for this year, I never would have pictured my life the way it is now. It’s gone completely south but something is really different this time. I am learning to stand in the reality of how things are; bare and naked without any feelings of shame, self-pity or regret. Of course, I am fully aware that not all things are rosy and pretty but I have come to realize and understand this; sometimes when we make huge breaks in life, we tend to think that’s what defines us and so, when we fail or things don’t turn out the way we would have wanted them to, we feel inadequate and less than what we truly are. This is simply because we have taken on different things; job titles, successful marriages and relationships, internships with big companies, cars, six-figure salaries, fat bank balances and used them as labels that define us. This is why many people are on a roll to show who has the fanciest apartment, job or the cleanest pet.
I realized later in one of the darkest moments that all along, I had attached my worth to landing internships with big companies and I worked my butt off trying to get them. It hit me so hard when I didn’t get in any of those companies and for days, I could not stand myself because I felt like the biggest loser. But, by the words of Theodore Roosevelt, I have learned this:
“It’s not the critic or judgement that counts; not the man who points out how the strongest man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotion; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who, at the worst , if he fails, at least he does so daring greatly.”Theodore Roosevelt
“Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. It’s even a little dangerous at times and without question, putting ourselves out there means there is far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life and what daring greatly meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I am standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”Brene Brown
Have you ever asked yourself, why is it that people are so keen and enthralled to show off the best, beautiful moments of their lives and not the worst? Why is it that we impulsively put up pictures dining at expensive restaurants or exploring Bali but can’t do the same when we’ve run out of salt and need a neighbour or a friend to bail us? Why is it that only few can stand up and tell a story of an ugly rejection, a failed interview, relationship or a story of them caught red-handed cheating on their spouse as much as they would tell a story of their greatest achievement? For me, owning up to your life in its entirety and owning every piece of the truth, without trying so hard to colour a picture of perfection or fantasy is daring greatly. Feeling enough, even when life seems and looks empty is daring greatly. It’s like getting an invitation to a white-themed party and donning some really baggy, dull outfit. It’s not easy because everyone looks at you like the odd one but it’s certainly brave because no matter the trends, the theme, changes or circumstances, you choose to define who you are and stand in your own truth and story. No amount of failure or triumph can ever change what you’ve decided to be. You show up at the arena after a massive setback. You don’t find comfort in any other thing because you already have the completeness in yourself. You can crumble down in public, be vulnerable and reach out for comfort from those who love you because you know the courage to be vulnerable is actually strength; it shows you aren’t afraid of how you feel or where your life has taken you to. You know and trust in the process and you certainly don’t conform to society’s definition of strength — who decides that for you anyway?
When situations sway you in different directions and life knocks the shout out of you, lean in; think of what it is that the turmoil is trying to say to you but don’t for once, mistake that for your worth. Your value is all of that and more. Your legacy is the lives you have touched and untouched; healed and not healed and impacted. You are a mighty person in the making; a masterpiece in progress; a miracle in motion. On other days you will burn; other days you will shine brightly but you are a product of all the experiences and more to come. You were spoken over and carefully moulded by the hands of the most creative. Learn to dare greatly, after all, life is but a mosaic of colours, stories, habits and characters. We are simply an extension of the infinite expression. We can’t all have the same experiences. We definitely cannot win all the time; it becomes predictable and our failures just make life savoury. What we can do is to show up at the arena and tell our story the way it is.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: