For many of us, the coming days will bring stress and anxiety. In the month of December, it is common to see students wandering around campus dazed and confused from lack of sleep, one miss-hap away from a public breakdown. Due to the enormity of work that looms ahead, health, hygiene, and self-care are all pushed to the backburner.
Many of us feel a great deal of pressure as the end of the semester approaches. Every year, I come back from Thanksgiving break with mixed emotions of excitement over the holiday season, and dread about the coming weeks that will most certainly be spent hunched over my desk memorizing terms, producing papers, and creating presentations. I can remember that during my first few years at Gustavus, these weeks were often filled with multiple breakdowns. Although I have gained the ability to understand that in the scheme of things my trivial worries about an exam is small potatoes, I still tend to lose some of this perspective when running on four hours of sleep with deadlines fast approaching. I know that much of this stress is associated with high expectations that I have created for myself. Although I think that everyone should always put forth their best effort, I do believe that we can sometimes set standards that are too high. While I do want to receive a good grade in each of my classes I must question how much of my being am I willing to sacrifice in order to fit the mold that society has created. As I prepare for finals, I try to channel the words of Ken Robinson, Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability. At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence. I would encourage each of you to take the time to reflect on these words and to hold them in your heart always.
As you enter into this period of finals, I challenge all of you to maintain perspective. Remember all of the blessings and love that surround you. Take time for self-care. Engage in life-giving activities and dialogue that will rejuvenate your soul. Work as hard as you can to silence that little voice in your head, the one that is saying that you are not enough. Avoid worrying about trivial matters; after all, this passing darkness will only be a line in the book of your life.
Finally, I challenge you to avoid the fear of failure. The following excerpt came from a speech that was delivered to incoming freshman at Stanford University. Above all, resist the fear of failure. Yes, you will make mistakes. But they will be your mistakes, not someone else’s. And you will survive them, and you will know yourself better for having made them, and you will be a fuller and a stronger person.
I hope that as you embark on the journey of finals week, you are able to go forth with peace and love in your heart. Remember to respect yourself and your own unique being. Remember to keep a healthy perspective. Finally, remember that you will make mistakes and you will fail, but this failure is not something to fear. As Anna Quindlen says so eloquently, The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.